Archive for the ‘Jim Thorpe’ Category

Ina Probably Wasn’t there

October 18, 2020

In May and June of this year, 2020, I researched various sources trying to find out if America’s first sports editor, Ina Eloise Young, had covered the December 5, 1908 football game between the Carlisle Indians and the University of Denver in Denver. I came up dry.

Today, while researching Carlisle’s 1908 season, I came across something that might be conclusive evidence that she didn’t attend the game. The Rocky Mountain News December 5, 1908 edition included a photo not attached to an article. The photo was of Ina Eloise Young. The caption read, “Miss Ina Young of Trinidad, Who Has Returned to Her Home After a Visit With Denver Friends.” This caption suggests that she left for Trinidad prior to the game having started. This photo, coupled with an inability to find press coverage of the game, suggests strongly that she didn’t attend the game, wouldn’t have seen Jim Thorpe play and wouldn’t have met him.

A Sad Day in Carlisle

October 5, 2020

Friday was  sad day in Carlisle. Wardecker’s Men’s Wear closed for good. While recent fashion trends have hurt clothing sales, it was the Wuhan virus that did Wardecker’s in. Government reactions to the plague might be more accurate. In spite of diminishing demand for dress clothing, Freddie Wardecker had been able to keep the doors open by selling uniforms to health care workers, people involved in food preparation, police and others as well as by renting tuxedos. The state government’s shutdown decimated the need for new uniforms and eliminated proms. Brides-to-be reacted by scaling down or postponing their weddings. Without uniform sales and tuxedo rentals for proms and wedding, the store had little revenue with which to pay its bills, forcing it to close.

Wardecker’s was not an ordinary men’s store. It was a place with a lengthy history, beginning with Mose Blumenthal, proprietor of The Capital, a haberdashery on North Hanover Street. Along with operating the menswear store, Mose Blumenthal had a tailoring contract at Carlisle Indian School. This relationship proved useful to the Athletic Department in multiple ways. Well known is how Pop Warner had Mose sew an extra hem in the bottom of Charles Dillon’s jersey. However, one of Blumenthal’s employees probably did the work because Mose couldn’t operate a sewing machine.

Carlisle students generally had little money. A way of rewarding athletes for performing well was for the athletic director of school superintendent send chits worth $25 or $50 to Blumenthal, which players could use to buy suits and other clothing. Each player, including the famous ones, had a page or pages in Blumenthal’s log book to keep track of their chits and purchases.

Clothiers, like magic dragons, don’t live forever, so Mose sold his business to long-time employee James “Muck” Wardecker. Hence the name on the door: Wardecker’s Men’s Wear, formerly Blumenthal’s. Jim’s son, Freddie, was helping his dad back in 1967 when Bob Wheeler was interviewing people who knew Jim Thorpe. Wheeler’s work was made easier, after hitchhiking to Carlisle, when Muck tossed Freddie his car keys and told him to drive Bob to all the people he needed to visit. Wheeler’s definitive biography of Thorpe further cemented the ties between the Indian School and Wardecker’s.

Since then, Wardecker’s, with all its memorabilia, has been an important stop for every author or filmmaker wanting to write a book or make a movie about Jim Thorpe or the Indian School. Now, that is finished, but Wardecker’s had a great run and will remain strong in people’s memories.

Abel Kiviat, Olympian

September 1, 2020
Abel Kiviat

Last week I had the pleasure of meeting Jeff Benjamin and his father Jack at Wardecker’s Menswear and Jim Thorpe Museum in Carlisle. Jeff is a high school history teacher, a runner, and Senior Writer For The Running Network. His research topic is Abel Kiviat (6/23/1892-8/24/1991), the Hebrew runner as he was referred to in his day. Why might you ask was someone interested in a person with no direct ties to Carlisle, the Indian School, Dickinson College, the US Army War College or Carlisle Barracks come to Wardecker’s? Kiviat was Jim Thorpe’s roommate aboard the SS Finland on the voyage to Stockholm to compete in the 1912 Olympics.

 Kiviat was a distance runner, as was his teammate on the ship, Carlisle’s Lewis Tewanima but they didn’t compete against each other in the Olympics. Kiviat came in second in the 1500 meter race to Britain’s Arnold Jackson, who broke Kiviat’s world record to win the gold medal. Kiviat also competed in the 3000 meter team event in which each country competing entered five runners as a team. Kiviat, coming in second overall, led the American contingent to a gold medal in the event.

Abel Kiviat had another tie to Carlisle. He trained with and competed for the Irish-American Athletic Club out of New York City. While preparing for the 1908 Olympics, Carlisle’s Frank Mt. Pleasant, who had no Irish ancestry either, had also trained with the Irish-American Athletic Club.

L-to-R. Jack Benjamin, Freddie Wardecker, Jeff Benjamin

Restore Jim Thorpe’s Records

July 16, 2020

Thanks in great part to Florence Ridlon’s and Bob Wheeler’s tireless efforts, Jim Thorpe’s Olympic medals were restored in 1983. That isn’t entirely accurate. Thorpe’s original medals were supposed to be kept secure in a museum but were stolen. So, the medals his children were given were commemorative ones, not their father’s actual medals. The IOC may have restored his medals, sort of, but only listed him as co-champion of the 1912 decathlon and pentathlon, the two multi-event competitions he won but his times, distances and points were not restored. The IOC records still list the second-place finishers as the winning marks. Now, people are trying to do something about that injustice.

BrightPathStrong.com is circulating a petition with the goal of restoring Jim Thorpe’s records. For those who might not be aware, Bright Path is the Anglicized version of Jim’s Sac and Fox name. Here is a link to their site:

https://brightpathstrong.com/petition

Ina Eloise Young

May 23, 2020

During a Zoom meeting Monday night, a text came in wanting to know if early sportswriters covered Jim Thorpe. I soon found a list of early female sportswriters. Most of them were younger than I am so were children or not born yet when he died. One was different. She was born in 1881 but, in later life, claimed 1883 as her birth year.

Ina Loise Young , was born in Brownwood, Texas into a family of baseball fans. They moved to Trinidad, Colorado in 1889. She played girls’ sports and enjoyed watching the local amateur and semipro baseball teams play so much she learned how to keep score. Lest you get the idea that keeping score in baseball is just a matter of tallying outs and runs, a sample scoresheet is provided to give you an idea of the complexity of filling it out. A skilled scorekeeper provides a detailed chronicle of what happened in the game.

Ina graduated from Trinidad High School as one of the four members of the class of 1900 and enrolled at the University of Colorado in Boulder. There, she participated on the fencing and girls’ basketball teams. Outside of class, she wrote about campus news as a correspondent to the Denver Post.

After two years at the University, she returned to Trinidad to work as a reporter for The Chronicle-News. She covered whatever came her way, including hard news. When the baseball season started in 1905, they needed someone who could keep score competently. She put her skills to use covering the local hardball scene. The next year she was elevated to Sporting Editor. In the summer of 1908, a wire service article about Ina, including a drawing of her, circulated around the country, introducing her to the eastern sports enthusiasts.

In the fall, The Chronicle-News sent her east to cover the World Series between the Chicago Cubs and the Detroit Tigers. A few days after the World Series ended, the Baseball Writers Association was formed. Although not present, she was made an honorary member and was given a button that would gain her admission to any major league ballpark.

On December 5 of that year, the Carlisle Indian School football team, with Jim Thorpe at left halfback, played the University of Denver in Denver. She surely covered the game because it was the most important game played there to that time. However, I haven’t been able to find editions of The Chronicle-News for that time period. The Denver Post had employed Walter Eckersall of Chicago, who officiated the game as Field Judge, to write coverage of it along with their own sports department reporters and editor, so they didn’t carry her articles about it. The Rocky Mountain News-Denver Times articles carried no bylines. If they used Ina’s reporting, they would have tagged them as being written by her. Maybe some archive will have microfilms of the missing editions of The Chronicle-News.

 

 

 

Restore Jim Thorpe’s Sole Standing

November 13, 2019

Everyone knows Jim Thorpe’s gold medals for winning both the decathlon and pentathlon in the 1912 Olympics were taken back in 1913 because he had played some low-level minor league baseball. Less well known is that, through the efforts of husband and wife team Bob Wheeler and Florence Ridlon, his medals were restored, and his name returned to the record books. Little known is that even though his records are now included in the official report, the International Olympic Committee chose to list the second-place finishers in both events as also being gold medal winners’ point totals, even though Thorpe amassed much higher point totals. Over the decades, the IOC has resisted all efforts to restore Thorpe as the sole gold medal winner for the decathlon and pentathlon even though it was proven they had illegally taken his medals and records away. Fortunately, not all have given up hope.

U.S. Representative from the 1st Congressional District of New Mexico Debra Haaland is submitting a resolution in a week to put pressure on the IOC to right this wrong. She is proposing this resolution to coincide with Native American Heritage Month. After making its case, the resolution states:

Resolved, That it is the sense of the House of Representatives that the International Olympic Committee, through its president, should officially recognize Jim Thorpe’s unprecedented athletic achievements as the sole Gold Medalist in the 1912 pentathlon and decathlon events and correct these inaccuracies in the official Olympic books.

I urge you to assist Rep. Haaland in this effort by writing in support of this resolution to her office in care of Kevin.Carriere@mail.house.gov.

jim_thorpe

 

Jim Thorpe’s Biographer is Interviewed

August 19, 2018

Back in May, I reported on the Jim Thorpe movie that is being made with the involvement of Angelina Jolie and others. Because, to a great extent, the film in development is based on his definitive biography of Thorpe, Bob Wheeler is being interviewed about Thorpe, his research and the movie. Here are links to videos of some of his recent interviews:

https://drive.google.com/open?id=1gaK7rdZgpEcstHfye0buBCWt7aTANU16

The Big Biz Show: https://vimeo.com/281652412/002da7695e

BizTalk Discovery: https://vimeo.com/281653077/23660f3772

Wheeler’s odyssey in tracking down Thorpe’s contemporaries while they were still alive is a story in itself. Hitchhiking cross-country when it was possible but frowned upon by some, including President Eisenhower, was the only way a grad student with no money could travel to all the places he had to go to conduct his research.

Even getting an oral history approved as a valid project was a challenge at that time. It’s better I stop and let Bob tell his own story.

Wheeler's book

 

 

 

 

 

The Tebow Thorpe Intersection

July 30, 2018

Earlier this summer you read about my ill-fated attempt to see Tim Tebow play minor league baseball against the Harrisburg Senators at City Island. Since that time, I’ve thought about who else played at that island in the Susquehanna River over a century ago.

Called Hargest’s Island in 1902, a crude baseball field there was home turf for Harrisburg Athletic Club for whom Carlisle Indian School grad and Dickinson College student Charles Albert Bender pitched one summer. The future hall-of-famer even hurled a game against the visiting Chicago Cubs. Chief Bender lost but acquitted himself well. So well, that by season’s end he had been signed by Connie Mack to pitch for the Philadelphia Athletics. The rest, as they say, is history.

Baseball wasn’t the only sport in which Carlisle Indians competed on Hargest’s Island. In 1908, 8,000 people attended the first annual statewide track and field meet sponsored by the Pennsylvania Intercollegiate Athletic Association. The Carlisle Indians defeated ten colleges to take first place honors. Several Carlisle athletes performed well. Among them was Jim Thorpe, rounding out his first season of competition. He came in second in the 220-yard hurdles and 16-pound shotput, and first in the high jump. Not bad for someone new to the sport.

Jim Thorpe on Hargest's Island

Jim Thorpe runs the high hurdles in the Pennsylvania Intercollegiate Meet on Hargest’s Island

The 1912 event was the source of an often-heard legend about the Carlisle Indians. Their team did not run 20 miles to a game, defeat their opponents and run home. Lewis Tewanima and Jim Thorpe were training for the Olympic Games to be held in Stockholm that year and did not compete as members of the team. As part of his training regime, distance running Hopi Tewanima ran from Carlisle to Hargest’s Island, waved to his friends, circled the track, and ran back to Carlisle.

Jim Thorpe returned in 1915 to compete there as a member of the Harrisburg Islanders minor league baseball team. A parallel of Thorpe and Tebow is that that both competed on City Island in baseball, not either’s first sport. Both camein to prominence for their exploits in college football. Tebow was a Heisman Trophy winner and Thorpe would have been had that award existed in 1911 and 1912. His prominent position in the College Football Hall of Fame attests to that.

Jim Thorpe Movie

May 8, 2018

For years—decades actually—film makers and wannabe film makers have flowed through Cumberland County Historical Society on an almost monthly basis to learn more about Jim Thorpe and the Carlisle Indians. They leave convinced more than ample material exists for a feature film, surely enough for a TV movie. But little tangible has resulted. Many of them visit Wardecker’s Menswear, formerly Blumenthal’s, where Freddie Wardecker gives them a tour through the artifacts in his store, regales them with stories about the Carlisle players and teams, and shows them the log in which each player’s name is recorded, under which a list of his purchases follows. Invariably, he suggests they contact Robert W. Wheeler, author of the definitive Jim Thorpe biography.

I sometimes get contacted by these folks, often wanting answers to questions they have on the teams and players. Often, they require some research on my part to answer. Recently, I’ve received questions about Thorpe’s time with the New York football Giants. (He played for them in 1925.) The reason why those questions were coming now was answered last night, when a press release announced that a biopic about Jim Thorpe was to be made and one of the backers was the Giants’ owner.

Variety reported that Angelina Jolie, in partnership with Escape Artists Productions’ Todd Black and Steve Tisch, would be producing Bright Path: The Jim Thorpe Story. This production will break new ground by having a Native American actor play a Native American title character in a major motion picture. Martin Sensmeier, whose parents are Tlingit and Koyukon-Athabascan, is perhaps best known for his role in The Magnificent Seven remake alongside Denzel Washington, Chris Pratt, Ethan Hawke, and Vincent D’Onofrio.

With backing this film has, it seems certain, as certain as anything is in Hollywood, this film will actually be produced.

Variety article: http://variety.com/2018/film/news/angelina-jolie-escape-artists-producing-native-american-athlete-jim-thorpe-1202801404/

Renewed Interest in the Oorang Indians

September 23, 2017

Oorang Indians Willis.jpg

Yesterday’s mail brought an unexpected pleasure. I opened a package that obviously contained a book. But I had no memory of ordering a book from anyone. The label said it was from Rowman & Littlefield in Blue Ridge Summit, Pennsylvania. I knew some book publishers made their home in that town as the late John Kallmann had once worked for a publisher located there. I still had no idea what book it might be.

Opening the package, I found a copy of Walter Lingo, Jim Thorpe, and the Oorang Indians: How a Dog Kennel Owner Created the NFL’s Most Famous Traveling Team by Chris Willis. It was a book I knew was coming out because Chris and I had conversed about the topic and a question he had about Eagle Feather led to some serious investigation and a series of blog posts about this mysterious player.

Wanting to thank him for the book, I tried to send Chris an email, but couldn’t find his address. An inopportune computer crash in early August had wreaked havoc had lost numerous email messages and addresses. (Perhaps I should write about the fallacies of making backups using Microsoft’s utility.) I would appreciate it if someone would send me his email address.

The book had a feel different from others I’d felt. That it had no jacket because the jacket information was printed directly on the hard cover wasn’t new. What was new was the feel of it. Rather than having a hard, glossy finish, the cover had a matt finish that is soft to the touch.

Inside this beautiful book, I found an acknowledgement to me. An entire paragraph. WOW! Thank you, Chris.

Over the last couple of years, I had received questions from multiple persons about the Oorang Indians. Apparently, this most unusual NFL team had gathered renewed interest. Maybe the NFL needs to rejuvenate the team to attract fans. It needs to do something after tickets for Thursday’s Rams-49ers game went for $15!