When Oklahoman and American Indian sports hero Jim Thorpe passed away in 1953, the governor of Oklahoma refused to build him a $25,000 memorial. His remains are now in a distant Pennsylvania town renamed Jim Thorpe, Penn. ” a place he had never visited.
When Hollywood’s Thorpe biopic starring Burt Lancaster came out, Thorpe was managing an all-American Indian song-and-dance tour. It was playing in Nevada when he had his second heart attack.
A few months later, inside his trailer house at Lomita, Calif., a third attack took his life.
Plans began for a burial in Shawnee. A commission successfully lobbied for funds from the Oklahoma Legislature. President Dwight D. Eisenhower, who had played football against Thorpe, sent a personal message to Gov. Johnston Murray endorsing a memorial.
When the Legislature passed $25,000 for a memorial, Jim Thorpe Commission member Ross Proctor received a phone call from Murray, who told him he had no intention of vetoing the money.
“I’m part Indian myself,” the governor said, but less than 48 hours later, Murray vetoed the measure.
PENNSYLVANIA STEPS IN
Thorpe had to be buried somewhere. Enter Pennsylvania.
Thorpe’s widow learned Mauch Chunk, Penn.’s citizens were looking to bring industry to the town. She got hold of the town newspaper editor. Would the residents rename the town if she donated her husband’s body?
The name change was approved by a popular vote.
Thus Oklahoman Jim Thorpe, a legendary American athlete, was laid to rest a thousand miles from home in a place he had never visited. “Mike Coppock