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Feb. trial for Thorpe appeal

Published December 04. 2013 05:00PM

The date for the appeal hearing for the borough of Jim Thorpe in a court decision involving repatriation of the body of Olympian Jim Thorpe has been tentatively set for Friday, Feb. 14, in the U.S. Court of Appeals, Philadelphia.

Attorney William Schwab of Lehighton, who has been representing the borough in the case on a gratis basis, said he was notified of the appeal date Tuesday.

The date is subject to be changed to any day during the week of Feb. 10.

During the appeal, a panel will determine whether there will be oral argument in the case.

The appeal is regarding a decision in the case involving Thorpe's sons, John Thorpe, William Thorpe and Richard Thorpe, and the Sac and Fox Nations of Oklahoma, against the Borough of Jim Thorpe and specifically mentioned borough officials.

Last April 19, Judge A. Richard Caputo had ruled in U.S. District Court, Scranton, that the suit filed by the Thorpe children and native tribes falls under the Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act.

The case

As a result, it might be interpreted that the athlete's body, presently resting in a mausoleum in the town named after him, might be interred and moved to Oklahoma.

Judge Caputo ruled that Jim Thorpe borough is a "museum" under NAGPRA, because it has been the recipient of federal funds, including PennVEST money. The PennVEST funds had been used to replace water meters in the borough, but the judge said that the mere fact that the borough got federal funds constitutes its museum classification.

Although Judge Caputo never defined the ultimate disposition of the remains of Jim Thorpe in his decision, he wrote:

"Any concern about the loss of identity of the municipality of Jim Thorpe is misplaced. As noted, no relief in the form of the elimination of the name is sought by plaintiffs. Therefore, the existence of the municipality of Jim Thorpe will continue."

The appeal contends that the situation involving the location of the Thorpe monument in the borough is not a violation of NAGPRA regulations and that the borough should not be considered a museum. It further states that the agreement of the borough to obtain the body of Thorpe was done legally.

The legendary Jim Thorpe, the athlete who was an Olympic gold medalist, died on March 28, 1953 at the age of 64. He was an American Indian of the Sauk heritage and an enrolled member of the Sac and Fox nation.

At the time of his death, he was married to his third wife, Patricia Thorpe. They were living in Lomita, Calif.

He was also survived by four daughters and four sons. Richard and William are the sole-surviving children.

The burial

John "Jack" Thorpe was originally the only son to file the lawsuit on Feb. 4, 2011, but died 2 1/2 weeks later. William Thorpe, Richard Thorpe, and the Native American tribes then joined onto the suit.

Following Thorpe's death, traditional Sac and Fox funeral and burial sites were commenced, but were never completed, according to Caputo's ruling.

His estate was assigned to his surviving spouse.

On March 19, 1954, Patricia Thorpe entered into an agreement with the boroughs of Mauch Chunk and East Mauch Chunk in which interment of Thorpe's body would occur here and in return, the two towns would merge and be renamed "Jim Thorpe."

The deal occurred after Oklahoma's governor balked at the cost of a planned monument to the athlete in that state.

On a related note, during a meeting of Jim Thorpe School Board last night, board president Dr. Clem McGinley stated that he was advised by Jack Kmetz of the Jim Thorpe Sports Hall of Fame that the appeals process will cost about $100,000. He said Kmetz is seeking donations to help the borough in the case.

No action on the matter was taken by the school board.

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