Sixty years after his death, Jim Thorpe's family feuds over body

Mon May 6, 2013 3:57pm EDT
Email This Article |
Share This Article
  • Facebook
  • LinkedIn
  • Twitter
| Print This Article | Single Page
[-] Text [+]

By Joe McDonald

JIM THORPE, Pennsylvania (Reuters) - The tiny hamlet of Jim Thorpe, Pennsylvania, could lose its namesake, an American sports hero whose interment put the town on the map.

A family squabble has turned into a federal court battle over the remains of the legendary Native American athlete and Olympic medalist, who died in 1953 and whose life was depicted in "All American," a 1951 movie starring Burt Lancaster.

The dispute could take an important turn this week, when the borough court will announce on Thursday whether it will appeal a federal district court judge's decision that could eventually clear the way for Thorpe's remains to leave town.

Town Mayor Michael Sofranko said the council will respond to the input it gets from local residents--who number less than 5,000, according to the 2010 U.S. Census.

"Residents need to say, ‘I want the body to stay here,'" he said.

Jim Thorpe never lived in the eastern Pennsylvania town that took his name, but his remains were placed in a mausoleum here in an agreement with his widow allowing the settlement to be named after him.

Six decades later, a feud over where Thorpe should be buried has pitted his two sons, who want to move him back to native lands in Oklahoma, against his grandchildren, who want him to stay in the Pennsylvania town that erected statues and a monument "to one of the greatest athletes of the 20th century."

The battle escalated last month, when senior U.S. District Court Judge A. Richard Caputo issued a ruling in Harrisburg, PA, that upheld a federal law protecting Native American remains and ordered the borough to comply with the Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act. The order requires the borough to hire an archaeologist who will conduct an inventory of the remains.   Continued...

The Jim Thorpe Memorial in Jim Thorpe, Pennsylvania on April 24, 2013. REUTERS/Joe McDonald