Posts Tagged ‘Bob Wheeler’

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.

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

 

 

 

 

 

Jim Thorpe in the Movies plus ACLU Supports Redskins

March 7, 2015

Two interesting things of note happened this week:

Bob Wheeler, Florence Ridlon, and their son, Rob Wheeler, had an article about Jim Thorpe’s largely unknown activities in the movie industry published in the Spring 2015 issue of the magazine of the American Indian: http://content.yudu.com/web/1q1ji/0A1r2jl/Spring2015/flash/resources/index.htm?referrerUrl=http%3A%2F%2Fcontent.yudu.com%2Fweb%2

Hint: Big Jim appeared in 70 films and started the Indian Center that gave birth to the Native American Screen Actors Guild.

The second thing that happened was that the ACLU filed an amicus brief in the appeal of the U. S. Patent and Trademark Office decision in June to cancel trademark protect for the Redskins football team. The NYU Tech Law & Policy clinic joined the ACLU in arguing that the government cannot constitutionally deny trademark benefits on the basis of speech that it disagrees with or finds controversial even though they (the ACLU) doesn’t like the name. An ACLU blogger dislikes the name so much he called the Redskins’ owner an expletive: NYU Tech Law & Policy clinic, arguing that the government cannot constitutionally deny trademark benefits on the basis of speech that it disagrees with or finds controversial: https://www.aclu.org/blog/free-speech/youre-not-wrong-youre-just-ahole

So, the Redskins appear to be a long way from being forced to change their name.

Carlisle’s National Treasure

August 31, 2013

Last week I got a call from Sentinel reporter Joe Cress asking about Freddie Wardecker. For those not from the Carlisle area or who aren’t interested in Carlisle Indian School sports teams, Freddie is the proprietor of Wardecker’s Mens Wear, formerly M. Blumenthal on North Hanover Street not terribly far from Carlisle Barracks where the Indian School was located from 1879-1918. Mose Blumenthal operated The Capital, as the business was then known, back when the Indian School was in operation. Mose also had a contract with the Indian School and did work there. Indian School personnel and students patronized The Capital. Along the way, Mose collected a number of artifacts related to the Indian School, its students, faculty, and staff. Freddie inherited them and has added a number of items related to Carlisle to the collection.
For serious researchers, visiting Wardecker’s is a must. Freddie freely shares his wisdom concerning Jim Thorpe et al but welcomes visitors to sit at his round table to solve the world problems of the day.
I told Joe what I know but referred him to Bob Wheeler, the author of the definitive biography of Jim Thorpe, because he has better stories to tell and is much more eloquent than I could ever hope to be. Here is a link to the article about not a local treasure, not a state treasure, but a national treasure: http://cumberlink.com/news/local/history/wardecker-s-menswear-store-in-carlisle-remains-a-resource-for/article_0d679b7c-0dbd-11e3-990c-0019bb2963f4.html Don’t forget to check out the photos.

Best in the World

May 29, 2012

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/

Like Father, Like Son

December 5, 2011

The title of this message is a bit misleading. Like parents, like son would be more accurate. Rob Wheeler is the son of Robert W. “Bob” Wheeler and Florence “Flo” Ridlon and, like the proverbial apple, didn’t fall far from the tree. Bob is perhaps best known as the author of the definitive biography of Jim Thorpe. Flo is not well known for her greatest discovery, but should be. It was Flo who found a long-lost copy of the rules for the 1912 Olympics misfiled behind a row of books on a shelf in the stacks of the Library of Congress. The rules made possible the restoration of Jim Thorpe’s Olympic medals. Bob and Flo should be better known for their efforts and ultimate success but probably won’t be. Their only child, Rob, has undertaken the task of getting Jim Thorpe’s remains moved to Oklahoma. Philadelphia lawyers are hereby on notice that Rob is on the case.

Rob Wheeler is a senior at MIT double-majoring in Aeronautics and Aerospace Engineering AND Physics, so cannot devote full time to the effort as his parents did for some years in their effort. Fortunately, he doesn’t have to do it all himself as Thorpe family members are heavily involved. It is because of one particular Thorpe that Rob is so dedicated to this task, but you will have to visit Rob’s website, www.JimThorpeRestInPeace.com, to learn the details of that relationship.

Rob conceived, designed and maintains the website. His Phi Sigma Kappa brothers, David Somach and Arkady Blyakher, assisted in creating the website. Michael Lehto  provided vital encouragement and technical expertise. Since the website was put on-line, Rob has been interviewed by Native News anchor for IndianCountryTV.com, Paul DeMain. That interview can be viewed at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DHPQ0jTwSmM&feature=channel_video_title.

Don’t be surprised if we read more about Rob Wheeler in the news.

Bob Wheeler Will Be Speaking in Carlisle

August 21, 2010

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.

Removal of Jim Thorpe’s Remains

November 9, 2009

Both AP and UPI wire services report that Jim Thorpe’s sons plan on suing the Borough of Jim Thorpe, PA to have his remains removed from the town that now bears his name to the graveyard near Shawnee, OK in which Thorpe’s father and other relatives are buried. Jim’s youngest son, Jack, is quoted as saying, “According to Sac and Fox tradition, Dad’s soul will never be at peace until his body is laid to rest, after an appropriate ceremony, back here in his home. Until then, his soul is doomed to wander. We must have him back.”

According to the UPI, Thorpe wanted to be buried in the Oklahoma cemetery with his relatives but, at the time of his death, his family didn’t have the resources to build what his widow thought to be a proper monument to her late husband and the governor of Oklahoma declined to provide to necessary funding. Mrs. Thorpe then negotiated an arrangement in which the boroughs of Mauch Chunk and East Mauch Chunk, two towns in which Big Jim never set foot, would merge and be renamed after the football star. They were also to build an appropriate monument. According to all accounts both sides lived up to the agreement, but the expected tourist interest never materialized.

The attorney representing the Thorpe family plans to file a law suit in Federal Court in Philadelphia later this month under the 1990 Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act. That act requires that federal agencies and institutions that get federal funding return American Indian remains to their families or tribes. I suspect that this law was intended to deal with bones and artifacts that graverobbers sold or gave to museums, schools or government agencies, not for agreements freely entered into. This is a tough case because there are no bad guys. The question I have is: who would suffer most if his remains are not returned to the family? Perhaps Bob Wheeler, the author of the definitive Jim Thorpe biography, can shed more light on this.

Premier at Carlisle Theatre

December 8, 2008

On Friday Antonio Banderas conducted the U.S. premier of his film, El Camino de los Ingleses (The English Road), titled Summer Rain in the U.S., at Carlisle Theatre. This was not the first movie to be premiered at this 1939 Art Deco picture palace. In August of 1951, Jim Thorpe returned to Carlisle to premier his film biography, Jim Thorpe: All American, in which he was portrayed by a young actor by the name of Burt Lancaster. Unfortunately, that film is now dated and needs to be remade, or better yet, an entirely new film needs to be made. Perhaps that will happen.

It seems that a filmmaker interested in shooting a film about Jim Thorpe, Pop Warner or the Carlisle Indian School breezes through town every couple of months gathering information for his or her next production. The most notable, perhaps, of those in recent years was announced in 2004 John Sayles was writing the script for Carlisle School for Walden Media. Nothing further has been seen about that film and that may be for the better. The Hollywood Reporter wrote that Carlisle School, “follows a ragtag group of young Native Americans who achieve prolific victories on the football field that lead them to national prominence. The players, among them future sports legend Thorpe, attended the boarding school in Pennsylvania that, from 1879-1918, housed Native Americans from childhood through college.”

Anyone who knows anything at all about Carlisle Indian School is well aware that its teams were anything but ragtag. To the contrary, Carlisle was frequently criticized for being just the opposite. The recent books about Thorpe and Carlisle have not been the most accurate either. But better things may be in the offing. Kate Buford’s biography of Jim Thorpe is to be released in 2008 and there aren’t many days left in the year. Bob Wheeler is finishing up his audiobook on Jim Thorpe. This is something to look forward to. Thorpe’s Boswell is not just reading his landmark book on Thorpe, he is also including clips from the interviews he made decades ago of people, many of whom are now long dead. It will be great to hear Ike talk about playing against Thorpe in his own voice. I can’t wait.