The Morning File: Jim Thorpe dispute creates opportunity to rename Jim Thorpe, Pa.
September 9, 2013 4:00 AM
Matt Rourke/Associated Press
If you're ready for a new name, get in touch.
By Gary Rotstein Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
Poor old Jim Thorpe must be rolling over in his grave -- like, literally.
There's a fight going on in Jim Thorpe, Pa., and it's over his dead body. Thorpe's family members are squabbling with one another and with the citizenry of that quaint Carbon County town over the potential disinterment of his remains.
Thorpe, the former Olympian and gridiron star who was the greatest American Indian athlete ever -- dare you to come up with another name to argue -- was originally from Oklahoma. When he died penniless in 1953, Oklahoma officials were disinterested in honoring him with any kind of memorial, so his widow made a deal with two Pennsylvania towns that were merging and looking for attention.
Officials of Mauch Chunk and East Mauch Chunk agreed to provide a mausoleum, statues and signs honoring Thorpe, even though he'd never taken a breath in their northeastern Pennsylvania location. As if that weren't enough, they named their new town Jim Thorpe. (And yes, if I were originally Mauch Chunk, I'd be looking hard for a new name also.)
Now some of his offspring want Jim Thorpe moved to tribal lands in Oklahoma, which they say is in keeping with what he would have wanted. Jim Thorpe officials, however, are reluctant to give Jim Thorpe up. Confusing things further, some of his grandchildren say the people of Jim Thorpe have done fine by Jim Thorpe and it would be silly to rebury him. The whole argument is tied up in federal court, naturally.
Rather than see the controversy cause further trouble for the legacy of a great American athlete who had enough difficulties while living, I am sending off the following letter to Jim Thorpe officials as a win-win-win solution:
Dear Jim Thorpe,
Just to be clear, this message is to Jim Thorpe the town, not Jim Thorpe the person. I am well aware that Mr. Thorpe is unable to respond due to difficult personal circumstances. But I think he might be on my side in this, so if you feel a cool breath on your neck from an unseen source as you read this, it is safe to assume it is him.
If Jim Thorpe's children can be trusted that he would have preferred to spend eternity in Oklahoma (And really now, who wouldn't want to? Or does just living in that state for a year or a week feel like an eternity? Feel free to ignore any anti-Oklahoma barbs, which have nothing to do with my point here) maybe you should let them have their way.
What would they have to gain by forcing such a move at this point? You think anyone wants to deal with funeral and cemetery people, unless there's a valid reason? His remains are now 60 years old themselves, probably not in a very healthy state at that ripe old age. It's nice that his children feel so attached to his body -- I know a lot of adult children who aren't nearly as thoughtful toward their living parents.
But I know what you're thinking: If you let him go, how can you be Jim Thorpe anymore without having Jim Thorpe? That vacuum is like trying to imagine the University of Pittsburgh without Mark Nordenberg, only much worse.
But hey, you renamed yourselves once -- nothing to stop you from doing it again. You could name the town after another iconic football legend like Bronko Nagurski and try to get his body moved there from Minnesota, but he's probably got family reluctant to stir the pot themselves.
So here's my suggestion: It has been on my bucket list for some time to have a town named after me (along with getting a hole-in-one, a royal flush in poker and a reduction in my auto insurance rates). I would gladly take over Mr. Thorpe's site in the new Gary Rotstein, Pa., and promise you my relatives would be glad to be rid of me.
Yes, it's true, technically, that I'm not yet dead, but I don't consider that a hindrance as far as occupying any kind of tomb-like space left behind by Mr. Thorpe. The magician David Blaine garnered lots of attention with stunts like living on public display in a glass case for days, so I would have no trouble doing that myself, saving money on rent, and drawing lots of tourists to your town, which I hear is quite lovely.
So just send a note letting me know when to show up, and make sure, please, it's on the new official "Gary Rotstein, Pa." stationery. And I'd suggest you act with haste -- I've made the same offer to Hershey, Pa., in case they've got any problems with Milton Hershey's descendants, and you'd hate to get beat out.