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Court decision

Published November 28. 2011 05:02PM

Last week, a federal judge ruled that a lawsuit seeking the retrieval of the body of Olympic great Jim Thorpe from a mausoleum in a local Pennsylvania town carrying his name and sent to Oklahoma to Native American burial grounds can proceed.

An objection to the suit had been filed by Attorney William Schwab of Lehighton, who was working pro bono on behalf of the borough of Jim Thorpe and 11 other defendants, and was dismissed.

The suit originally was filed by Jim Thorpe's son, Jack Thorpe, who died last February after it was filed. The legal action was amended, adding Richard and William Thorpe, the only surviving sons of Jim Thorpe, and the Sac and Fox nation, of which Jim Thorpe was a member.

The suit is filed under the Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act (NAGPRA), which allows for Native Americans to be removed from some burial locations and be reinterred on tribal grounds.

The judge deciding on whether the trial can proceed wrote:

"Upon Jim Thorpe's death in 1953, his remains were taken to Shawnee, Okla. for burial near his birthplace.

"Before the completion of the traditional Sac and Fox memorial service, Jim Thorpe's third wife ordered that his casket be removed. She proceeded to 'shop around' his remains until a deal was made to bury them in the boroughs of East Mauch Chunk and Mauch Chunk, Pennsylvania."

Obviously the details can be argued, words can be changed, history recalled, and emotions may surge.

There are many in town who feel that the court fight should proceed at all costs. There are others who feel that even if the body was sent to Oklahoma, that the name of the town wouldn't have to change.

Should the town expend money on a potentially long court fight?

Obviously, depending on who you ask, you'll get varied opinions.

Why not ask the voters to decide whether the court fight should proceed? After all, it will be the taxpayers footing the bill.

If this is the case, there should be one major provision: that the Thorpe sons as well as the Sac and Fox tribes receive no financial compensation from the borough, including legal costs.

The judge in the case ruled that Jim Thorpe the athlete never set foot in the town while he was alive.

The people of Jim Thorpe can hold their heads high about the glory they've given to arguable "the World's Greatest Athlete."

Will having his body in a mausoleum along North Street make a difference?

Or, should the town fight to keep the athlete's remains since the forefathers in the community worked so diligently to give him an admirable memorial when he might have just ended up in a pauper's grave?

What plans are set in Oklahoma for this athlete if the body is returned there?

Either way, voters should be able to have a say in the matter, just like they did in 1955 when they voted to change the name of the town to Jim Thorpe.


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