Thursday evening, I had the pleasure of attending the kick off reception at the National Museum of the American Indian (NMAI) in Washington, DC for their new exhibit, “Best in the World: Native Athletes in the Olympics.” This special exhibit, which runs through September 3, is timed to honor the 100th anniversary of the performance of two Carlisle Indians in the 1912 Stockholm Games but doesn’t limit itself to just their performances. In fact, the first thing one sees upon entering the exhibit is a blown-up photograph of Frank Mt. Pleasant broad jumping while wearing his Dickinson College jersey. He competed in the 1908 games in London. The exhibit also includes a photo of Frank Pierce, younger brother of Carlisle football stars Bemus and Hawley, competing in the marathon in the 1904 Games held in conjunction with the St. Louis World’s Fair. He is believed to have been the first Native American to compete for the United States in the Olympics. Enough about the exhibit, you can see that for yourself.
At the beginning of the reception, the dignities present were introduced. There is no mistaking Bill Thorpe due to his strong resemblance to his father. Bill is lending the use of his father’s Olympic medals to the NMAI for this event. Lewis Tewanima’s grandson was also present. He took the time to explain the importance of the kiva to Hopi culture. It was quite enlightening. Billy Mills, who broke Lewis Tewanima’s record for the 10,000 meters and won the gold medal in the 1964 Olympics spoke and was taped by a cameraman as he walked from exhibit to exhibit.
Some writers were also in attendance. Robert W. Wheeler, who wrote the definitive biography of Jim Thorpe, and his wife, Florence Ridlon, whose discovery of the 1912 Olympics Rule Book behind a Library of Congress stack made the restoration of Thorpe’s medals possible, was also present as was Kate Buford, the author of a recent Thorpe book. The apple didn’t fall far from the Wheeler-Ridlon tree as their son, Rob, whose website, http://www.jimthorperestinpeace.com, supports the effort to have Jim Thorpe’s remains relocated to Oklahoma.
More about the exhibit can be found at http://nmai.si.edu/explore/exhibitions/item/504/