Yes, Robert W. Wheeler, author of the definitive biography of Jim Thorpe, is coming to Carlisle. On Thursday, the Friends of Bosler Library held a press conference to formally announce the inaugural Celebrate the Book festival to be held on Saturday, October 23 at the Expo Center in Carlisle, Pennsylvania. This will afford readers, sports fans and historians a rare opportunity to meet Bob Wheeler and to hear him speak. He will give a talk and take questions about his book. In many ways, I find how he conducted his research to be even more interesting than Thorpe’s life story.
After convincing his thesis advisor to allow him to write an aural history, a new concept at the time, Wheeler, a grad student with little financial backing, hitchhiked around the country to interview people who had been connected with Thorpe during his lifetime. Interviewing Thorpe was impossible as he died two decades before Wheeler set sail on his odyssey.
Almost everyone he interviewed is now dead and many of the artifacts he perused are no longer available to researchers. He interviewed every one he could think of who had a connection to Thorpe and anyone who would talk with him. Occasionally, it was even necessary to deal with unsavory characters, but he did that because it was necessary to be able to tell Big Jim’s story. He met with anyone from the obscure to President Eisenhower. He was so thorough that Dick Schaap referred to him as “Jim Thorpe’s Boswell.”
But Bob didn’t stop when his book was completed and his degree awarded. He and his new bride, Florence Ridlon, opened an office in what had been a closet in a Washington, DC hotel and worked doggedly to get Jim’s Olympic medals restored. Flo will be on hand to discuss her great find that made medal restoration possible.
Also speaking that day is Dr. Richard Sommers, Sr. Historian at the Military History Institute. In addition to housing military archives, the MHI also holds Carlisle Indian School records due to its having been located on Carlisle Barracks. Visiting the MHI and meeting Dr. Sommers are musts for anyone researching the Carlisle Indian School.
Y’all come and see us on October 23. More information can be found at www.CelebratetheBook.org.