A reporter from the local newspaper called me the other day to verify someone’s claim that he possessed a helmet Jim Thorpe once wore and a football he once kicked. Both artifacts were from 1927, the year Big Jim played for the Portsmouth Shoe-Steels. Portsmouth, Ohio lies in southern part of the state along the Ohio River. The team was sponsored by a local company that manufactured metal parts for shoes.
John Carpenter, who is reputed to own the country’s largest collection of sports memorabilia, has an old helmet he believes Thorpe wore when he played for the Shoe-Steels and a football Thorpe kicked in a game. Carpenter lives across the Ohio River from Portsmouth, a factor that makes his claims more plausible. I don’t know and doubt if anyone can know with certainty if these items were ever associated from Jim Thorpe. I don’t have the expertise to determine exactly when the helmet and football were made. If they were made after 1927, they probably didn’t come from Thorpe.
The stories of how these artifacts came into Carpenter’s hands are believable because Thorpe was known for giving away things. Bob Wheeler, Thorpe’s biographer, confirmed that Thorpe’s parents raised him to be generous. While we can’t ever know for sure, there’s a good chance these things were at least touched by him at one time.