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Joe Boyle would be very angry

Published May 04. 2013 09:02AM

It's been nearly 60 years since the late Joe Boyle helped to gain national recognition for Carbon County.

It was Boyle who led the efforts to make a deal with Patricia Thorpe, third wife of the Olympian great Jim Thorpe, and have his body brought to what was then East Mauch Chunk for a respected burial and memorial site.

Boyle, a newspaper reporter, led fund-raising efforts, got national media attention, and united Mauch Chunk and East Mauch Chunk into what is now the town of Jim Thorpe.

Going back to the atmosphere which prevailed in 1954, the towns of Mauch Chunk and East Mauch Chunk didn't have a lot going for them. They weren't the tourist towns they are today. The railroad industry was declining, there was no more Switchback, and there was little to entice young people to remain in the community.

The Olympian Jim Thorpe passed away in California. Burial was going to occur in Oklahoma, but the governor there vetoed expending money on any type of monument.

You see, at that time, Thorpe wasn't actually the Olympic medalist we admire him for today. He had been stripped of his medals because he was paid some living expenses to participate in minor sports.

He was poor when he died. His wife Patricia appealed to the world for a proper burial plan for her husband.

Boyle and the people of Mauch Chunk and East Mauch Chunk rallied to the rescue.

There was hope that with his body would come a large hospital, a sports hall of fame, and plenty of tourism for the community. Of the three, only the tourism materialized.

That's okay, though.

Boyle's main objective wasn't to have the body of Jim Thorpe brought here. It was to do something to improve his town. He was a lifetime resident of the community and loved it with all his heart and soul.

In the case of Thorpe, he spent little of his life in Oklahoma or with Native Americans. He was married three times.

Attorney William Schwab, who has been fighting a lawsuit seeking the repatriation of Thorpe's body, said it is the children of the second marriage who filed the suit.

Family members from the first and third marriage have no problem with Thorpe's body remaining in Carbon County.

But a federal judge won't let family members from the first and third marriage participate in the suit or even testify.

So, there's a family feud that has the town of Jim Thorpe paying the price. It's somewhat more complicated, but yet it's not.

Attorney Schwab says Patricia Thorpe was never paid any money by the towns of East Mauch Chunk and Mauch Chunk for the privilege of having the athlete's body. Her main concern was that Jim Thorpe, the athlete, would get the recognition he deserves; something the people of Oklahoma weren't willing to give him.

We understand whereby our forefathers gained Native American relics via force such as wars and takeovers.

This isn't the case. The widow of Jim Thorpe personally brought his body to the local community for burial. She was thankful for the efforts of Joe Boyle and other community leaders who fought hard to accomplish this feat.

The only objections came from some town residents who didn't want to see change in the community. Nobody from Oklahoma objected to Jim Thorpe's body being brought to Pennsylvania. None of Thorpe's family members voiced objections. No government officials said this couldn't be done.

For most crimes, there are statutes of limitations on prosecutions. Yet, for doing something honorable, you can get stabbed in the back generations later.

We don't know if Jim Thorpe Borough Council will appeal the order of the federal judge in the repatriation matter.

We do know what Joe Boyle would do. He wouldn't go down without a fight. He would pull out all stops to retain what he worked hard to achieve.

Sometimes it truly is the principle of the matter. Just because a small faction wants to take something that belongs to you - and Jim Thorpe's body does belong to the community - doesn't mean it should be surrendered.

Is Jim Thorpe's soul really not resting in peace? There's no way anyone really knows, but when he was laid to rest in 1955 he finally had a home. His grave has been consecrated several times.

If his body is moved without the town's people putting up a fight, poor Joe Boyle's soul might never rest in peace.

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