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Jim Thorpe

  • FILE PHOTO The Borough of Jim Thorpe honors the memory of its namesake with a Jim Thorpe Birthday celebration. This photograph was taken in 2008.
    FILE PHOTO The Borough of Jim Thorpe honors the memory of its namesake with a Jim Thorpe Birthday celebration. This photograph was taken in 2008.
Published November 19. 2009 05:00PM

Among the plethora of questionable stories related to the possibility of a lawsuit being filed to reclaim the remains of the late Native American Olympic athlete, Jim Thorpe, came one in a recent televised report on WFMZ-69.

The following was excerpted from the report:

Co-anchor Wendy Davis reported, "The borough of Jim Thorpe is a big tourist attraction in the Poconos, because of its famous namesake."

Most people in the borough, as would visitors to the borough, would cite the town's beauty, whitewater river, scenic trails, Victorian architecture, eclectic restaurants, arts and gift shops as reasons for its becoming a tourist attraction.

Jim Thorpe's Monumnet gravesite is just one of many visitor attractions.

The report also misidentifies Dan Hugos as, "Charles Getz, Carbon County Commissioner." Hugos is the president of the Jim Thorpe Chamber of Commerce.

But to Jim Thorpe's grandson, Michael Koehler, the most problematic misreporting came from the following statement by reporter Bo Koltnow: "The family has said according to Native American legend, Jim Thorpe can never be at peace until he receives a proper burial at home. His soul, according to his son, is doomed to wander."

"What I saw indicates that there is a battle being waged between Jim Thorpe, Pennsylvania who obviously wants to retain the body - and 'the family.' They all mention that 'the family' wants his body back," said Koehler. "Well, that's incorrect. Only a part of the family wants his body back."

Jim Thorpe married three times. In 1913, he married Iva Miller. They had four children: Jim, Jr., who was 2 when he died during the 1918 influenza epidemic; Gail, Charlotte and Grace. In 1926, Thorpe married Freeda Kirkpatrick. They had four sons: Carl, William, Richard and Jack. Patricia Askew, Thorpe's third wife, had no children.

"The children and grandchildren from Jim Thorpe's first marriage do not want the body back," Koehler continued. "We want the body to remain in Jim Thorpe. Only Jack, Bill and Richard, and perhaps their children, want the body back in Oklahoma."

The WFMZ report was referring to a statement that, Jim Thorpe's son, Bill Thorpe said, as reported in the January 14, 2001 edition of the Pittsburgh Post Gazette: "Dad's spirit is still floating, and it will as long as this goes on."

According to Koehler and Jack Kmetz of the Jim Thorpe Hall of Fame, Jim Thorpe's spirit is no longer floating.

"I have found, based upon reviewing newspaper articles, that Grace Thorpe went to Jim Thorpe, Pennsylvania and had the Native American burial ritual performed at Jim Thorpe's mausoleum," Koehler said.

"It seems to me that given the fact that she performed that ritual, it is now sacred ground," Koehler continued. "I don't see how anyone would agree that Jim Thorpe's remains should be removed from sacred ground, particularly given the fact that Indian spirituality believes that the human being returns to Mother Earth.

"Mother Earth is the most important thing, and he has returned to Mother Earth. As far as I know, by performing the Native American ritual, she sanctified the ground."

Kmetz is even more specific.

"On Nov. 20, 2001, the ground of the memorial was sanctified," he said. "It was the occasion when Jim Thorpe appeared on the Wheaties box."

"We weren't allowed to watch," Kmetz continued. "It was led by Chief Oren Lyons. He heads the Onondaga Nation in New York.

"They burned either tobacco or sage in a smudge pot in front of the mausoleum. I have cedar trees in my yard. When Grace was here on several occasions, she had me cut some cedar boughs and put them on the mausoleum," Kmetz added.

"I went to the parade to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the naming of the town. I was amazed at the reactions of the people, particularly from ages 10 to 60. They seem to be dedicated Jim Thorpe, Pennsylvanians."

Regarding the threatened lawsuit, Koehler noted, "This is a tempest in a teapot by the sons to create some sound and fury to intimidate the town. I don't know if they are willing to go the full nine yards."

There have been several ceremonies at the memorial. There is an Internet posting referring to a 1998 rededication of the Jim Thorpe Mausoleum.

Grace Thorpe was accompanied by an Indian Chief who worked for the local TV station in Oklahoma. When Grace was about to perform her Native American ritual, a pair of red-tailed hawks circled above the monument, and after the ritual they flew off. The chief said the red-tails are a sign from above that Jim is finally at peace. Grace said that it was a sign that her father was happy and at rest.

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