Posts Tagged ‘Flo Ridlon’

Today’s Event at the National Museum of the American Indian

August 17, 2012

Several decades ago, Robert W. Wheeler then a grad student at Syracuse hitchhiked coast to coast carrying an incredibly heavy reel-to-reel tape recorder to interview acquaintances of Jim Thorpe for his master’s thesis. The project grew as the miles rolled on. His budget, however, didn’t grow. But Bob persevered.

Years—it probably felt like decades—later, he had not just a master’s thesis but a full length biography of the world’s greatest athlete. After reading the book, Dick Schaap referred to Bob as Jim Thorpe’s Boswell, drawing an analogy to the thoroughness of his research in comparison to that done by James Boswell in documenting the life of Samuel Johnson. Since Wheeler’s book was first published, several other biographies of Thorpe have been written but they all draw on the painstaking work done by Wheeler.

The National Museum of the American Indian (NMAI) is celebrating of the 100th anniversary of Jim Thorpe’s triumphs in the Stockholm Games along with other Native Americans’ participation, many for medals, in the Olympics. The entrance to the exhibit features a blown up photograph of Carlisle Indian Frank Mt. Pleasant broad jumping in his Dickinson College track uniform. Here is a link to information about the exhibit: http://nmai.si.edu/explore/exhibitions/item/504/

Today, Bob Wheeler is giving a talk at the NMAI that I will be attending. Those unable to attend can hear Bob speak on the NMAI’s webcast of the event. Here is a link to the webcast: http://nmai.si.edu/calendar/?trumbaEmbed=date%3D20120817 Also speaking will be Flo Ridlon, Bob’s wife, who played a crucial role in getting Thorpe’s Olympic medals restored. Both are spellbinding speakers. This is an event not to miss.

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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/

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.