Posts Tagged ‘Portsmouth Ohio’

Thorpe’s Helmet & Football

November 26, 2012

A reporter from the local newspaper called me the other day to verify someone’s claim that he possessed a helmet Jim Thorpe once wore and a football he once kicked. Both artifacts were from 1927, the year Big Jim played for the Portsmouth Shoe-Steels. Portsmouth, Ohio lies in southern part of the state along the Ohio River. The team was sponsored by a local company that manufactured metal parts for shoes.

John Carpenter, who is reputed to own the country’s largest collection of sports memorabilia, has an old helmet he believes Thorpe wore when he played for the Shoe-Steels and a football Thorpe kicked in a game. Carpenter lives across the Ohio River from Portsmouth, a factor that makes his claims more plausible. I don’t know and doubt if anyone can know with certainty if these items were ever associated from Jim Thorpe. I don’t have the expertise to determine exactly when the helmet and football were made. If they were made after 1927, they probably didn’t come from Thorpe.

The stories of how these artifacts came into Carpenter’s hands are believable because Thorpe was known for giving away things. Bob Wheeler, Thorpe’s biographer, confirmed that Thorpe’s parents raised him to be generous. While we can’t ever know for sure, there’s a good chance these things were at least touched by him at one time.

Carlisle Not Only Town With Jim Thorpe Mural

February 5, 2009

Carlisle isn’t the only town with a mural that features Jim Thorpe. Portsmouth, Ohio also has a mural that features Big Jim in his Canton Bulldogs uniform flanking the Portsmouth Shoe-Steels, a semi-pro football team on which he was player-coach in 1927. That mural, one of about 50, adorns part of the 2,090 feet long 20 feet high concrete wall that protects Portsmouth from Ohio River floodwaters. Artist Robert Dafford of Lafayette, Louisiana began painting the murals in 1993. Jim Thorpe was painted early in the project, being completed in 1994.

The Portsmouth Shoe-Steels were largely recent local high school grads who played football in their free time while working day jobs to support themselves. The Shoe-Steels played their eight home games on LeBold Field. Thorpe lead them to a 7-4 season, beating the Columbus Bobb Chevrolets and the Ironton Tanks late in the season after losing to them earlier. The other two loses were to Cincinnati National Guard and Ashland Armcos, two teams that they only played once.

The next year most of these players, with a season of experience under their belts, played for a new local semi-pro team, the Portsmouth Spartans. In 1930 the Spartans joined the NFL after being sponsored by the Green Bay Packers. Portsmouth was mired in mediocrity until 1934 when Dick Richards bought the team, moved them to Detroit, and renamed them the Lions. That team is definitely not mired in mediocrity as its current 0-16 record attests.

Jim Thorpe & Portsmouth Shoe-Steels mural

Jim Thorpe & Portsmouth Shoe-Steels mural