In a time of social media hyperbole, where lists tell us who or what is number 1, it may be hard to compare any athlete with James Francis “Jim” Thorpe, or as he was known by his Native American friends, Wa-Tho-Huk.
Jim Thorpe won gold in both the decathlon and the pentathlon at the 1912 Olympics in Stockholm, which means he could run, jump and throw better than almost anyone else in the world.
And that’s not all.
He played baseball for the New York Giants, Cincinnati Reds, and the Boston Braves. He played basketball for the “World Famous Indians”, a travelling basketball team. And he played football for the Canton Bulldogs, which won championships in the American Professional Football Association, a precursor to the NFL.
Thorpe suffered from alcoholism, struggled in poverty after the Great Depression, and passed away broke in California. And that’s when his life really got interesting.
Thorpe was brought back to his birth place in Shawnee, Oklahoma, lying in state. Somehow, Thorpe’s third wife, Patricia, stole the body and shipped it to Pennsylvania. Neither Thorpe or his wife had any connection to Pennsylvania. But the towns of Mauch Chunk and East Mauch Chunk smelled a business opportunity. They bought Thorpe’s remains, built a monument and renamed the towns Jim Thorpe, Pennsylvania.
Jim Thorpe’s son, Jack, has been trying in the courts ever since to bring his father back to Shawnee. Unfortunately for Jack and his supporters, in October, 2015, the US Supreme Court ended this pursuit, and Thorpe’s remains remain in Jim Thorpe, PA. See this link for efforts to bring Jim Thorpe home.
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