Posts Tagged ‘Bob Wheeler’

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.

More on Indian Sports Leadership

September 5, 2008

Yesterday’s email brought a curious announcement. I am going to receive a free, signed copy of a new book to be released soon. The Toilet Paper Entrepreneur by Mike Michalowicz, about which I know nothing, was looking for humorous bathroom graffiti. I sent in my all-time favorite from the back of the men’s room door at The Blessed Oliver Plunket, a bar/restaurant featuring live entertainment located across the street from the Cumberland County Historical Society. The Plunket, as it was better known, has numerous stories to tell but I’m not the one to tell them. In the late 70s, as I was leaving the men’s room, I noticed a scribble on the door:

No sign of intelligent life…Kirk Out

Apparently that witticism has found its way into a book.

Back to Donna Newashe McAllister’s question…

I expected that more people would comment on this and would like to see more myself. So, I’ll share some of my thoughts.

My wife and I have discussed this issue to some degree and I think it is an issue with multiple facets. First, I’m not so sure that American Indian athletes have necessarily declined. Judging today’s athletes with those who were at the Carlisle Indian School may not be fair. Those guys were world-class athletes coached by one of the most innovative coaches of all time. Pop Warner is criticized much today but few question his knowledge or his ability to coach football. During its heyday, Haskell had fine athletes and was led by Dick Hanley, Lone Star Dietz and Gus Welch, all of whom were excellent coaches. Dietz belongs in the College Football Hall of Fame. Neither Haskell nor the tribal colleges can afford to hire coaches of their caliber today.

Bob Wheeler tells me that Bill Thorpe shoots better than his age, 80, in golf. To compare anyone with Jim Thorpe is unfair. He was the greatest athlete of all time and could do anything well. I can’t imagine how he could be competitive in the pole vault, but he was. Sam Bird’s grandchildren and great-grandchildren are big in the rodeo. Some of the others didn’t have children and many settled off the reservation. For example, Joe Guyon was a big star at Carlisle, Georgia Tech and in the NFL where Joe Guyon, Jr. played for Catholic University.

But you seem to be focused more on leadership than on athletic ability. It appears to me that many of the better leaders did not return to the reservation after finishing at Carlisle or Haskell. Several were officers in WWI and were leaders in the service but didn’t return to lead their tribes. Some kept one foot in each world and their children found more opportunity in white society. For example, Thomas St. Germain’s son, grandson and great-grandson were/are renowned research physicians at Tulane University School of Medicine.

It may be that Indians are playing leadership roles individually but not together as a group. MANY of the Carlisle players went into coaching but Dietz, Exendine and Welch were about the only ones who made it their life’s work. Coaching was an even more precarious occupation then than now and only the best schools paid well. So, most devoted their considerable talents to other occupations. Even Exendine and Welch practiced law in the off-season.

Surely, other people have some insight into this issue.

Jim Thorpe’s Gloves

April 7, 2008

A mystery has haunted me since shortly after starting to research Lone Star Dietz’s life. Today, with the help of Freddie Wardecker, proprietor of Wardecker’s Mens Wear and Jim Thorpe Museum, and Bob Wheeler, Jim Thorpe’s biographer who, along with his wife Florence Ridlon, succeeded in getting Thorpe’s Olympic medals restored, I solved that mystery.

Lone Star Dietz died in 1964 and his wife, Doris, died three years later. Mary Lou Zientek had befriended the Dietzes and served as executrix of Doris’s estate. The estate consisted mostly of Lone Star’s memorabilia that included promotional photos for his movies and a pair of Jim Thorpe’s gloves. Mrs. Zientek donated many of the items from the Dietz estate to a museum in Pittsburgh. I was unsuccessful in locating any of these items in any museum in Pittsburgh. Today that changed.

Freddie Wardecker told me of a museum in Boca Raton, Florida owned by a man named Joel Platt. It seems that Mr. Platt wanted to build his museum just outside Carlisle some years ago but was turned down, so looked elsewhere. Last week Bob Wheeler mentioned Joel Platt in another context stating that he was from Pittsburgh. Today the light came on for me after Freddie chided me for not being able to locate Platt’s museum on the internet. Following his directions, the web site for Platt’s museum immediately popped up. After a little navigation, Jim Thorpe’s page appeared: http://www.sportsimmortals.com/thumb.cfm?ID=133&category=11&startrow=9

One item jumped out at me. I could never understand why Lone Star had a pair of Jim Thorpe’s gloves or why he would have kept them so long because I thought they were just ordinary men’s gloves. Well, these are not ordinary gloves. Seeing them will explain everything.

The photo shows other items related to Jim Thorpe’s time in Carlisle. Now that the Cumberland County Historical Society has funds for acquiring artifacts, perhaps they can bring Jim Thorpe’s jersey, letter sweater, gloves and other items back to where they belong.