Posts Tagged ‘Mauch Chunk’

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,, 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, Paul DeMain. That interview can be viewed at

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

Carlisle’s Attempt to Land Jim Thorpe’s Remains

August 2, 2010

John Luciew (pronounced Lucy), a reporter for Harrisburg’s Patriot-News, contacted me last week about the court case in which Jack Thorpe is trying to have his father’s remains brought to Oklahoma in perpetuity. Luciew was most interested in what I knew about Carlisle’s attempts, if any, to have Thorpe’s remains placed here back in 1953. I hadn’t looked into that before, so I had to do a little research. Freddy Wardecker, proprietor of Wardecker’s Menswear (formerly Blumenthal’s), gave me some information to go on and I was off to the races.

Jim Thorpe renewed acquaintances in 1951 when he was in Carlisle for the premier of his biopic, Jim Thorpe– All American. When he died just two years later, Carlislians wanted to honor him by locating his memorial here. A committee was formed, headed by attorney John B. Fowler (now deceased). The committee negotiated a location for the grave and monument near Indian Field at Carlisle Barracks where the young athlete made a name for himself when that facility was Carlisle Indian School. When Mauch Chunk entered the picture, Carlisle demurred, not wanting to get in a bidding war. In 1982, Sports Illustrated quoted Fowler as saying, “Pat wanted too much money. We felt like we were getting in a bidding war. We tried even after he died, but her price was too high.” Whether the Mauch Chunk group outbid others isn’t clear. What is clear is that they were actually able to raise the money and built the monument that stands there today.

Carlisle eventually placed a historic marker on the square next to the old courthouse. Some people think he is buried there but his remains are in the borough currently known as Jim Thorpe. Here is a link to the article Luciew wrote:

Photo by William Fischer, Jr.

No Hall of Fame for Jim Thorpe

June 29, 2010

Shortly after Jim’s body had been moved to the Rose Hill Mausoleum in Tulsa, one of his sons, Bill Thorpe, wired Governor Murray to protest the removal, stating that it was done without the approval of the deceased’s children. The Shawnee Chamber of Commerce was in an uproar over losing $3,000 that was donated by area residents, but their fund-raising effort for the project hadn’t advance beyond the planning stages. A month earlier, she threatened to move the body if progress wasn’t made and she carried out that threat.

Plans in Tulsa didn’t advance much either. The JayCees considered it briefly but found that there were “too many complications.” In early November, still in 1953, reports came out of Mauch Chunk, Pennsylvania that two neighboring boroughs were considering merging, naming the new municipality after Jim Thorpe, creating a national shrine in his honor, and building a hospital for the treatment of cancer and heart patients (Thorpe suffered from both).

According to Bruce Heydt, managing editor of British Heritage magazine, Patricia Thorpe found her way to Mauch Chunk after meeting with Bert Bell, then the Commissioner of the NFL. She had seen a TV broadcast about Mauch Chunk’s revitalization efforts and Bell was looking for a location for the Pro Football Hall of Fame. They negotiated with Mauch Chunk officials and struck a deal. In addition to the above-named items, the Pro Football Hall of Fame would be located in the newly-incorporated Jim Thorpe, Pennsylvania. Bell died before he could bring the Hall of Fame to Jim Thorpe and it went to Canton, Ohio, the city for which Big Jim had his greatest professional years.

It appears that the town fulfilled its side of the agreement but Mrs. Thorpe and Bell were unable to provide everything they promised. The outcome may have been considerably different had Bert Bell succeeded in bringing the Hall of Fame to Jim Thorpe.

Jim Thorpe to be Moved?

June 25, 2010

Yesterday, Jack Thorpe, the son of Jim Thorpe, sued the Borough of Jim Thorpe, Pennsylvania, for the return of his father’s remains. When asked about the law suit that was filed in Federal Court in Scranton, he stated that he waited until the last of his sisters had passed to avoid disharmony in the family. The sisters, children of Jim Thorpe’s first wife, especially Grace the activist, supported the eastern location for their father’s remains. Jack and his brothers were the issue of Big Jim’s second marriage. The arrangement to have her, by the time this happened, very late husband interred in what had previously been called Mauch Chunk and East Mauch Chunk were made by Jim’s third, and last, wife.

The State of Oklahoma had the opportunity to provide a fitting memorial after he died but failed to support it. In the spring of 1953, the Shawnee, Oklahoma Chamber of Commerce planned to erect a memorial to Jim Thorpe on an 80-acre tract at a cost of $100,000. The State Legislature even appropriated $25,000 toward the cost of the memorial, but Governor Johnston Murray vetoed it. The Chamber of Commerce gave Mrs. Thorpe $3,000 in “expense money” with understanding that she would bring the body to Shawnee.

By early September, little money had been raised and she said that the rent on the crypt in Shawnee hadn’t been paid and that, “I was afraid he’d wind up in Potter’s Field.” The Chamber of Commerce was unaware that crypt rental was due. She then moved his body to Tulsa where plans “are pretty far along.” She announced that a five-man committee, of which three were Tulsans, had been formed to build a monument to be known as the Jim Thorpe memorial and foundation somewhere in the Tulsa area. (to be continued)

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.