Perhaps because I was out of state for six weeks and holed up working on my new book for longer than that, I missed that the Cumberland County Historical Society bought some letters written by Jim Thorpe for a reported $90K. Finally hearing about these letters, I zipped over to the CCHS to take a look at these letters.
They came in two sets of 14 letters each: the first from July and August 1924 when Thorpe was playing baseball for the Lawrence Independents in Massachusetts and the second from December 1925 to March 1926 when Big Jim was struggling to make a little money playing football in Florida.
The 1924 letters were written to his future second wife, Freeda Kirkpatrick, while he was negotiating a divorce from his first wife, Iva Miller, whom he married at St. Patrick’s in Carlisle in 1913. Freeda worked for Walter Lingo, owner of the kennel that sponsored the Oorang Indians football team on which Thorpe played in 1922 and 1923. A common theme found in most, if not all of these letters, was that Thorpe terribly missed Freeda, whom he more often called Libby or Krazy Kitten. He pledged undying love and claimed that he was being true to her. His frequent reminders that they were engaged to be married may have been in response to an indication that she was getting cold feet. The letters she wrote were not part of the package so I can only speculate on what she might have written. He often referred to himself as her “big Injun” or “little boy.” Meanwhile, on the diamond, he was tearing up the league, hitting over .400.
The 1925/26 letters were written shortly after his marriage to Freeda, at a time Jim was having trouble making money playing football in Florida. Red Grange and the Chicago Bears were all the rage at the time and beat Thorpe’s team. Grange was the new star and Thorpe was old news in 1925. Thorpe was about 40 years old and was nearing the time he could no longer compete in professional athletics. According to the letters, he received offers to promote Florida real estate and to sell cars but, probably wisely, did not take them. Letters from Freeda apparently became fewer and less frequent. He also had a scrape with the law over what he might have described as a misunderstanding.
His letters do not reflect the thoughts of a happy-go-lucky person as Thorpe has sometimes been depicted. They do support assertions by former teammates that, contrary to popular opinion, he trained hard and kept himself in shape for games.
Jim Thorpe enthusiasts will want to read these letters.
A newly discovered Helen Keller photo has been in the news lately. Next time we will talk about a Helen Keller letter Ann found while researching Lone Star Dietz.