Thorpe has been called The Greatest Athlete of All-Time
and footballs first star. During the 1912 summer
Olympics in Sweden, Thorpe became the first and only athlete in history
to win both the pentathlon and decathlon.
being an unmatched athlete Thorpe, as an American Indian, helped
break some race barriers. Thorpes list of achievements are
long, and thanks to a film starring Burt Lancaster, fairly well
Dr. Robert Reising of University of the Cumberlands also contends
that Thorpe was an American Patriot.
whos working on his third book about Thorpe, talked about
Thorpes multiple attempts to serve his country in World War
II during his speech at the last of Corbin Main Streets Hungry
for History Lunch and Lecture series on Tuesday.
war broke out on Dec. 7, 1941 Thorpe went to the Army recruiting
station to sign-up for the war effort. Thorpe at the time was still
pretty famous for his athletic prowess, but none of the branches
of the military would take him. He was easily able to pass recruitment
physical tests. But there was one problem. Thorpe was 54-years-old.
Army recruitment officer says, Thank you but you are 54 years
of age, we dont take 54-year-olds. So he goes to the
Navy, same reply. Tries the Marines, same routine, same thing,
Reising said during his speech. At this time he was still
in top shape, he was a top marksmen, but they all said sorry Mr.
Thorpe, we dont use 54-year-olds.
Thorpe found a job as a security guard at the famous Ford Rouge
Plant in Detroit, which was cranking out all sorts of war-bound
machinery. Reising said Thorpe was ecstatic to find
a job that helped the war effort.
1945, Thorpe was finally able to join the war effort in a more hands-on
way when the U.S. Merchant Marines relaxed their enlistment requirements.
Thorpe hoped to quietly serve his country as a carpenter aboard
fought hard to serve a country, that Reising argues, Thorpe had
every reason to ignore. After the 1912 Olympics, Thorpe
was stripped of his eight medals because he played professional
baseball in 1909. At the time, Olympic athletes had to be strictly
amateur nobody receiving compensation for their sporting
abilities could compete in the games.
said the international community countries that Thorpe had
beat in the Olympics came out in support of Thorpe, while
officials from the United States pushed to have Thorpes medals
taken from him.
in mind, this is a man who lost his Olympic awards, and the primary
villain in that rigged arrangement is the United States and the
Olympic Committee and the Amateur Athletics Union of the U.S.,
has every reason to be irate, he has every reason not to want to
do anything for his country. But here you have him in a security
showed a picture of Thorpe towering above nurses in their frocks
after giving blood for the war effort at the Rouge Ford Plant.
serving his country, the country that did him in, as it were. The
country that treated him unfairly, Reising continued pointing
did play professional baseball in 1909 during a summer while attending
Carlisle Indian College. But as Reising pointed out, Thorpe received
the equivalent of room and board while playing professional
baseball, and Thorpe was one of many college men playing pro baseball.
Many of those young men, Reising said, changed their names on baseball
rosters to conceal their identities and to retain their amateur
would have none of that, Reising said, while other players changed
their names to innocuous, common names like Brown, Smith, and Jones,
Thorpe refused to change his Irish name or hide his American-Indian
heritage. Thorpes refusal in an era of more open racism may
have helped contribute to the loss of his medals, Reising said.
explained that many of the people who sat on boards, like the U.S.
Olympic Committee, who stripped Thorpe of his medals, also had ties
with Harvard, Brown, University of Pennsylvania and the rest of
the New England academic elite. The seeds of ill will
were planted by the elite schools when Thorpes college beat
the prestigious Harvard.
was much ill feeling about how such an insignificant school with
an Indian who was such a stellar performer How could
such a school humiliate the best institution in the land?
Reising said. There was, understandably but tragically
a great deal of ill will, and he was isolated and he had
to send back his awards.
bright light came out of the loss of Thorpes awards
professional baseball teams clamored to sign Thorpe. After a stint
in pro baseball Thorpe switched over to professional football, where
he was not only a manager and a player, but also the fledgling leagues
the war Thorpe married his third wife, Louisville native Patricia
Askew. Askew, Reising said, was a bit more entrepreneurial
than his first two wives. In 1953, Thorpe suffered his third, and
fatal heart attack at the age of 64, Reising said, with Askew at
quickly worked to get Thorpe memorialized, first taking Thorpes
body to his native Oklahoma. Reising said Askew wanted to honor
Thorpe on his native Indian Territory in Oklahoma, but
demanded that Oklahoma leaders erect all sorts of malls and
theaters in Thorpes honor. Oklahomas leaders werent
having any of it but Askew did find takers in East Mauch
Chunk and Mauch Chunk, Penn. City leaders there were looking to
consolidate the two townships, and came together as Jim Thorpe,
said Jim Thorpe, Penn. is a quiet sedate setting that Thorpe might
have enjoyed. Thorpe, according to Reising, loved hunting, fishing
and trapping above all sports even the ones hes
famous for. But Jack Thorpe Thorpes son from his second
marriage has been fighting for years to get Thorpes
body moved back to Oklahoma. Reising said an aging Jack Thorpe is
still trying to wage a legal battle, but because Askew was legally
in charge of Thorpes remains, its doubtful the body
will ever be moved.
years after his death, Thorpes gold medals were re-cast and
given to his family.
helped establish a scholarship at U of C to honor Thorpe called
The Jim Thorpe Patriot Scholarship. The scholarship
is awarded to one male and one female student who is in need of
financial assistance and is preferably a student-athlete who has
demonstrated a commitment to patriotism and service.
give a tax-deductable contribution to the fund you can contact Reising
at (606) 539-4518. Reising is quick to remind people that none of
the money goes to him.
fact, Reising pointed out to Tuesdays Hungry for History audience
that he even insisted on paying for his own lunch, I will
not exploit Mr. Thorpes name, and I always pay for my own