Strange Saga of Sports Legend's Remains Is Still Unfolding

Elderly sons of Jim Thorpe want him back in his native Oklahoma
By John Johnson,  Newser Staff
Posted Aug 2, 2016 11:27 AM CDT
Updated Aug 6, 2016 8:19 AM CDT
Strange Saga of Sports Legend's Remains Is Still Unfolding
This is an undated file photo of Jim Thorpe in a baseball uniform.   (AP Photo, File)

The name Jim Thorpe still shows up on short lists of "greatest athletes ever." Among other things, the Native American played pro football and baseball and won two golds (for the pentathlon and the decathlon) at the 1912 Olympics. Less well-known is the bitter dispute that continues 63 years after his death about where Thorpe should be buried. Kurt Streeter of ESPN takes a lengthy look at the controversy, which centers on Thorpe's surviving sons, Richard, 83, and Bill, 87. Their dad is currently buried in a tomb in a town called Jim Thorpe, Pa., and the brothers want to live long enough to see him returned to his native Oklahoma for a proper Native American burial. According to tribal tradition, his spirit remains unable to rest until that happens.

As the story explains, the controversy began dramatically when Thorpe's third wife, Patsy, stormed into the tribal funeral taking place in Oklahoma in 1953 and had police remove her husband's coffin. She had shown a "disdain" for Native American tradition, writes Streeter. When the state balked at paying for a public memorial, she looked around for another option and finagled a deal in Pennsylvania, where Thorpe had once played football. Two towns agreed to merge, take the name Jim Thorpe, and receive the remains as a tourist draw. Thorpe is still there to this day; a federal court ruled against the brothers' wish to have him removed, and the Supreme Court opted not to hear the case last year. The fight isn't over though: The brothers have hired a prominent DC lobbyist to press their case with town officials. "We are not giving up," says Bill. Click for the full story, which contains an incredible anecdote about Thorpe's decathlon win. (More Jim Thorpe stories.)

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