Sadly, we live in a world where the family of the greatest athlete the world has ever known, can’t claim his body so that he can be buried where he wanted.
Because a particular town that didn’t know a damned thing about the actual man paid a small sum in exchange for him being buried there and used for the purposes of bring tourists to their community. Certainly a wise financial decision for the town…
And how did he rightfully earn that particular title? Well one thing that he accomplished was the winning of pair of gold medals at the Olympics in the same year for the decathlon and pentathlon events.
Olympic Decathlon consisted of:
100 Meter dash,
Running long (broad) jump
400 Metre run
110 Metre Hurdles
1,500 Meter run
Olympic Pentathlon consists of:
200 Meter freestyle swimming
Show jumping course on horseback
Three kilometers cross country run
In fact his athletic prowess might have never even been revealed at all if he hadn’t decided to return to school after a couple of years break from school that he spent doing farm work, after the death of his father, brought about by gangrene poisoning from him being wounded earlier in a hunting accident.
But return to school he did one day decide to do, and enrolled in the Carlisle Indian Industrial School.
And at Carlisle it was quickly realized that Jim Thorpe was a man like no other, as during his time with the school he successfully competed in:
Track & Field
College Football (Playing as a running back, defensive back, placekicker, and a punter for the team.)
Future President Dwight D. Eisenhower was once quoted talking about have the difficult task of playing football against Jim Thorpe:
“Here and there, there are some people who are supremely endowed. My memory goes back to Jim Thorpe. He never practiced in his life, and he could do anything better than any other football player I ever saw.”
And last but not least…
Ballroom Dancing (Won the1912 inter-collegiate ballroom dancing championship.)
And I know what you are thinking a man of this caliber must have been raised up high on a pedestal of a grand celebrity lifestyle. After all there are tons of men not worth 1/30th of Thorpe’s mettle that literally have the world at their feet for decades. So how long did the good times last for Thorpe after winning international acclaim at the 1912 Olympics?
Not long, by 1913 newspapers were releasing stories that Jim wasn’t technically an amateur, it seemed that he had occasionally been paid as little as $2 ($47 in current dollar terms) a game and as much as $35 ($815 in current dollar terms) a week to play professional baseball.
The problem really wasn’t that Jim Thorpe was doing anything that any other American college athlete was doing back then, playing professionally during the summer to earn extra money. But the difference was that most as opposed to Thorpe had used some sort of alias and certainly not their real name. And so Jim Thorpe was quickly and summarily thrown off the high pedestal that he had certainly earned, for not knowing that he should have lied like everyone else.
His reputation and amateur career in shambles Thorpe decided to fully enter the world professional sports. And ending up playing Professional Baseball with the New York Giants, Cincinnati Reds, and the Boston Braves. He also managed to play several years as a Professional Football player as well for a variety of teams for that newfangled organization call the NFL. And just so you don’t get the misconception that there was a sport that Jim Thorpe couldn’t excel at, he also played Professional Basketball on the “World Famous Indians” of LaRue.
Later after his athletic career was over, and the money stopped rolling in and Jim Thorpe was just another victim of the Great Depression, he dug ditches or whatever it took to scrap by. And struggling just became a part of his life, so much so that when he was dying of lip cancer, the only medical attention he could afford was being admitted as a charity case to the hospital. And one night in March of 1953 the greatest American athlete died.
And he was so penniless, that his family couldn’t even afford to bury him. And the state that he had been born in Oklahoma, didn’t think that a half Irish and half Native American that hadn’t been bright enough to know when to lie, wasn’t worth footing the cost of building a memorial with a tomb for him to be buried in…
And so that Jim could at least have the dignity of a proper burial (his family couldn’t afford such a luxury, although they certainly thought he deserved it.) So Thorpe’s last wife went up North and did what she had to do so that her husband wouldn’t suffer the final fate of a pauper’s grave. She found a town in Pennsylvania that was oh so willing to make a deal, they’d buy his remains and foot the cost of his tomb and memorial, and they got to announce to the world that if you wanted to see where greatness was entombed…
…Where The Greatest Athlete the World Has Ever Known could be found…
You’d have to come to their city which they renamed Jim Thorpe as part of their effort to bring in the all-mighty tourist dollar. And that is where Thorpe’s body has been since 1953. This town in Pennsylvania has had around 57 years of using Jim Thorpe’s remains to bring in the tourists to their little community.
But now Thorpe’s son Jack Thorpe has filed a lawsuit with that city, trying to get his fathers remains back so that he can finally be buried with the rest of his deceased family in Oklahoma. Jim Thorpe’s son just wants his father to be buried with his grandfather, and his dad’s brothers and sisters, and less than one mile from where Jim Thorpe was born. And the son is having to make the legal argument that his stepmother went against the wishes of the family members.
Jim Thorpe never got multi-million dollar endorsements from Nike, Sprite, Glacéau, Bubblicious, Upper Deck, McDonald’s and State Farm. And he was certainly never ranked as the #1 in the Forbes Top 20 Earners Under 25 with annual earnings of $27 million. And although he did have a movie that was made about him, and based on his life, he only pocketed $1,500 ($21,400 in current dollar terms) from MGM for the film rights to his life story.
But he certainly earned the title of The Greatest Athlete the World Has Ever Known…