Published on May 25, 2013 by Amy
Birth: May 22, 1888
Death: Mar. 28, 1953
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Olympic Athlete, Major League Baseball Player. A Sac and Fox Indian, he was born in a cabin on the North Canadian River near Prague, Indian Territory (now Oklahoma). He was a rough, tough youngster while growing up with his twin brother, Charlie on a farm located in the Indian Territory. He honed his athletic skills on his father’s homestead, where the entire village would gather each Saturday for a picnic and participate in running events, jumping and wrestling. Thorpe first attended the Sac and Fox Indian Agency school near Tecumseh, Oklahoma before being sent to the Haskell Indian School near Lawrence, Kansas. When Thorpe was 16, he was recruited to attend the vocational school for Native Americans, The Carlisle Indian School in Pennsylvania.
He joined the football team, playing left halfback coached by Glen ‘Pop’ Warner. In his last year at Carlisle, Thorpe took part in the 1912 Olympic Summer games held at Stockholm, Sweden. He won the broad jump the 200-meter and 1,500-meter runs of the pentathlon. Jim won the shot put, the 1,500-meter run, and the hurdle race of the decathlon; and was the runner-up in the other events of the pentathlon and decathlon. In 1913, however, Thorpe surrendered his awards, at the request of the Amateur Athletic Union and the insistence of Glenn Warner, to the Olympic headquarters in Switzerland. It had been discovered that Thorpe had played (1909-10) semi-professional baseball with the Rocky Mount, N.C., team of the North Carolina Eastern League. However, duplicate medals were restored posthumously in 1982 after a long fight to rectify this wrong. Fifteen years later, the medals were stolen from an Oklahoma State Capitol exhibit allegedly by a janitor who later turned himself in along with the medals.
The career biography of Jim Thorpe, beside the Olympics, reads like an encyclopedia of sports, encompassing virtually every major athletic event available. He led his Carlisle Indian School team to the national collegiate championship, scoring 25 touchdowns and 198 points. Following the college football season, Thorpe went on to play 6 years of Major League Baseball. He received $6,000 per year with the New York Giants, managed by John J. McGraw. Meanwhile, in the off season, he played professional football with the Canton Bulldogs receiving $250 a game. He managed to lead the Bulldog football team to unofficial world championships in 1916, 1917 and 1919. He eventually finished his playing days in 1928 at age forty one with the Chicago Cardinals. Out of sports, Jim was not very successful. During the depression, he did bit parts in Hollywood movies and worked as a day laborer in Los Angeles.
He had a ghost-written book published during the 1932 Los Angeles Olympics, ‘Jim Thorpe‘s History of the Olympics. He regularly gave lectures on his athletic career. Late in World War II, he joined the Merchant Marines. In the postwar, he became a member of the recreation staff of the Chicago Park District. His personal life was dismal. His twin brother, Charlie, died at nine, his mother died of blood poising while he was still a teen and his father soon followed. He was married three times, the first two ended in divorce. His first son died at the age of four from polio. Jim suffered a heart attack while eating his dinner at his trailer located in a park in Lomita, California and he was gone at age 64. A monument was to be erected in his home state of Oklahoma. His body was placed in a vault in Tulsa waiting for a final resting place. Approval of a plan was nixed by the State. The town of Mauch Chunk, Pennsylvania came forward with a plan. It changed its name to Jim Thorpe, Pa and erected a marble tomb on a site outside of the city. Awards honors and legacy…In 1950, the nations’s press selected Jim Thorpe as the most outstanding athlete of the first half of the 20th Century.
In 2001, he was named ABC’s Wide World of Sports, the Athlete of the Century. He was named All-American for two consecutive seasons at Carlisle. In 1920, he was appointed president of fledgling American Professional Football Association, forerunner of the National Football League. He is enshrined in the Pro Football Hall of Fame in Canton. In 195l, the motion picture starring Burt Lancaster, ‘Jim Thorpe – All American’ was filmed. The Postal Service honored him with a commemorative stamp in 1998. Jim received a life-size bust of King Gustav V of Sweden and a Viking Ship encrusted with semi-precious jewels from Nicholas II, the last czar of Russia at the Stockhom games. Both items are currently housed at the International Olympic Committee Museum in Lausanne, Switzerland.