Posts Tagged ‘Florence Ridlon’

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.

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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.

Jaycees’ Petition

November 6, 2008

I had occasion to talk with Robert W. Wheeler, the author of the definitive biography of Jim Thorpe, and used this opportunity to discuss the hearings, the Jaycees, etc. Bob does not know Mr. Sheaffer so cannot comment on his efforts. However, in 1978 he had significant contact with the Jaycees on a national level, but I’m getting ahead of myself.

Almost immediately after Jim Thorpe’s Olympic honors were stripped from him in 1913, campaigns were started to restore his medals and his records. Bob recalled that what seemed like hundreds of campaigns involving were such people as Damon Runyon, FDR, and Branch Rickey, but all were unsuccessful. The unsuccessful list includes the one Sheaffer mentioned that was from Yale, OK and was headed by Grace Thorpe.

In 1978, the Jaycees redoubled their efforts and gathered over a million signatures on a petition to have Jim Thorpe’s Olympics triumphs restored. Bo Wheeler recalls that the Jaycees’ petitions were a major part of the nationwide effort which gathered over three and a half million signatures. As part of this effort Bob Wheeler and Jack Thorpe addressed the Jaycees’ national convention. Unfortunately, that was not the year of the final breakthrough. That would happen a few years later when Bob’s wife and researcher-in-her-own-right, Florence Ridlon, found the 1912 Olympic rule book lost in the stacks of the Library of Congress. The rest, as they say, is history.

Bob Wheeler’s Return

April 17, 2008

This week Jim Thorpe’s biographer returned to Carlisle to pick up his new suit. Mose Blumenthal was a tailor at the Carlisle Indian School and also outfitted students in civilian clothes at his haberdashery, The Capital.  Today that store is operated by Freddie Wardecker and sports Indian School memorabilia on its walls. My hope was that in the basement or attic Freddie would find a suit of the style worn by Jim Thorpe for Bob. But that wasn’t to be.  Bob had to settle for a dark business suit that is appropriate for almost any occasion. He topped it off with a Lone Star Dietz signature tie that is perfect for wearing at book talks. It should also be a hit in his home state of Texas. Although photos were taken they can’t be posted because they turned out too dark, probably due to photographer error.

While in town Bob and Florence visited several sites related to Jim Thorpe. Their first stop was Carlisle Barracks to see the former Indian School buildings and, of course, Indian Field. It was too late in the day for taking photographs so Bob returned the next day before leaving town. Prior to visiting the graveyard we mistakenly thought the graves were all of students who died while attending the school. However, we noticed that a couple of rows of the graves appeared to be for soldiers who had been stationed at Carlisle Barracks. Surprisingly, some of the dates on a few of the tombstones were relatively recent, after the Indian School had closed. Sadly, most of the grave markers contained little information about the person. Having more information would helpful. For instance, one marker only provides the name, Paul Wheelock. From researching a cousin who played football and was a pallbearer for Paul, I know that he was the infant son of Bandmaster Dennison Wheelock. Did the baby’s death cause the father to leave Carlisle or was it coincidental with another opportunity arising? The shortage of information makes it difficult to answer that question.

Bob and Florence also visited Whistlestop Bookshop and Cumberland County Historical Society. It would be great if we could get Bob, Flo and our local folks to coordinate a talk the next time they are in town. I, for one, hope we don’t have to wait until next tennis season.

Celebrity visitors

March 21, 2008

Carlisle had two celebrity visitors yesterday. Robert W. Wheeler and his wife, Florence Ridlon, dropped in at Wardecker’s Mens Wear to buy Bob a suit. Some might think it odd for a person who lives in Sandy Shores, Texas to drive to Carlisle on such an errand. However, it was a return trip for Bob, although close to 40 years in the making. What began as a master’s degree thesis in the late 1960s became a seven-year odyssey to research the life of America’s greatest athlete, Jim Thorpe. Bob’s research was not supported by a foundation grant and, as a graduate student at Syracuse University, he had few personal financial resources and found it necessary to travel across the country by hitchhiking. After he arrived at “The Capital,” as the haberdashery was known when Thorpe patronized it, “Muck” Wardecker dispatched his son, Freddie, the current owner, to chauffeur Bob around the area to interview Thorpe’s old friends. This time Bob and Florence drove themselves to Carlisle.

Much has happened in the intervening decades. For starters, Bob’s master’s thesis became the book, Jim Thorpe: world’s greatest athlete. However, getting college credit for writing the book was not automatic. That is a story best left to Bob to tell. After publication, the book got rave reviews. Dick Schaap compared Wheeler to James Boswell, the author of what has been considered the best biography ever written for any person. Bob got married but his interest in Thorpe did not wane. In fact, his bride, Florence Ridlon, became involved with the effort. One day in a musty archive, Florence found something that would have a major impact on the sports world.

She found the rules for the 1912 Olympics. In those rules she saw that challenges had to be filed within 30 days of the Olympics. The challenge that caused Thorpe to be stripped of his medals was filed almost six months after the Olympics and should not have been allowed. Getting Thorpe’s medals restored was not a simple matter and that story is best left for Bob and Florence to tell, also. Suffice to say that we will always be indebted to them for what they accomplished – and it wasn’t easy.

After having a son in 1989, Bob decided to quit his glamorous job with ABC Sports and work with Florence in their public relations business based out of Texas so that he could be involved in the rearing of his child. Their son is now a tennis star at MIT and they are on the road to watch him play some matches in the northeast.

Bob is making an audiobook with Frank Gifford narrating. Interviews with people such as President Eisenhower will be included as what I would call making of material. I can’t wait for that to come out.

Also visiting with Bob and Florence was Carlisle’s own Dick Darr, who played at Syracuse alongside Florence’s brother, Jim Ridlon. Perhaps we can get an interview with Dick some day to discuss his competition for the tailback position with an upstart named Jim Brown.

It is hoped that Bob and Florence will honor Carlisle with a talk sometime in the future now that they have reason to pass this way again.