to Articles Menu
The Grave of Jim Thorpe
posted on AmericanChronicle.com, Sunday, April 4, 2010
Recently, I took a couple of my sons to see the
grave of a truly legendary figure in football history, Jim Thorpe. The story of
how Thorpe came to be buried in Pennsylvania and not in his native Oklahoma is a
fascinating tale in itself. But the story of his life and athletic career is
just as fascinating.
Thorpe was a Native American born and raised in Oklahoma. In 1904, at the age of
16, his father sent him to the Carlisle Indian School in Pennsylvania to receive
an education in hopes of providing him with a better life. While at Carlisle,
Thorpe showed a great aptitude for sports, especially football, track and
baseball. He was coached in all three sports by legendary football coach Pop
Warner, who was the Carlisle athletic director at the time.
Thorpe won the 10 event Decathlon and the five event Pentathlon in the 1912
Olympics in Stockholm, Sweden. He was a star in college football and also played
for the Canton Bulldogs, New York Giants and Chicago Cardinals of the NFL.
Thorpe was instrumental in helping form, and then played for, another NFL team,
the Oorang Indians from 1922-1923. The team was made up entirely of Native
American players, many who had played at Carlisle. He was even the first
president of the American Professional Football Association in 1920, which
changed its name to the National Football League in 1922.
Thorpe also played professional baseball for the New York Giants, among other
teams. When his playing career was over, he appeared in many movies, often as an
Thorpe died on March 28, 1953 at the age of 64. At the time of his death, he was
married to Patricia Askew, his third wife. She wanted a fitting monument to be
erected in honor of her husband, who was considered by many to be the greatest
athlete of his time. The governor of Oklahoma refused to pay for a monument to
Thorpe, so Patricia began to look elsewhere. That's when the towns of Mauch
Chunk and East Mauch Chunk decided to consolidate to become Jim Thorpe,
Pennsylvania. The town purchased his remains in 1954 and moved them to where
they are today.
To find the grave of Jim Thorpe my sons and I set out from our home in Michigan,
drove down through Ohio and eventually turned onto Interstate 80, which took us
eastward across the state of Pennsylvania. We stopped for the night and
continued on our way the next morning. Not long after we passed by the exit that
would have taken us to the cities of Wilkes-Barre and Scranton, we turned off
I-80 and headed south towards the town of Jim Thorpe.
After driving around the quaint little town for a while, and not seeing any
signs that would have directed us to Thorpe's final resting place, I decided to
stop at a gas station and ask for directions. I know, I know, men don't usually
admit to doing such things, but I did, so there.
When I asked the lady behind the counter where
Thorpe's grave was, she looked at me like I was from Mars. I thought that it was
odd that someone who worked and most likely lived in Jim Thorpe, PA did not know
where to find the grave of the person the town was named after. Fortunately, an
older gentleman who had just paid for his purchase knew exactly what I was
looking for and gave me excellent directions to the site. It is located on the
north end of town on Highway 903. "You can't miss it," he said, and he was
The huge, above-ground crypt and statue of Thorpe are plainly visible as you
approach the roadside pull-off dedicated to the legendary athlete. A sign near
the road says, Jim Thorpe Memorial.
The crypt containing his remains is adorned with several carvings depicting
Thorpe's many athletic accomplishments, from football to baseball to track and
field. On the front of the monument is a quote from King Gustav of Sweden as he
presented Thorpe with his Olympic medals. He said, "Sir, you are the greatest
athlete in the world!"
There is also a modern art sculpture at the site called "The Spirit of Thunder
and Lightning" which is surrounded by several informational panels that talk
about the various stages of Thorpe's life and athletic career.
After we took many pictures to prove that we had actually been there, we
continued our journey back through Pennsylvania. Not far from Jim Thorpe we
drove past the town of Carlisle, where Thorpe went to school. It is located near
the city of Harrisburg. Today, the site of the Carlisle Indian School is part of
the Army's War College.
We did make a small detour in Ohio on our way home and stopped at the Pro
Football Hall of Fame in Canton. When you walk in the front door, the first
thing you see is a statue of Jim Thorpe, who was enshrined in the Hall's very
first class of inductees in 1963.
By the way, the Jim Thorpe High School's nickname for its sports teams is a
unique one that you don't hear everyday. They are known as the Jim Thorpe
Official Jim Thorpe, PA web
Jim Thorpe page on the Pro Football Hall of Fame web site
to Articles Menu