Son Of Jim Thorpe Sues for His Remains
Jack Thorpe is fighting to have his father's remains returned to the family's land in Oklahoma.
The body of Jim Thorpe has rested for more than 50 years at a memorial site built in his honor.
In 1957 the third wife of the legendary Native American athlete and Olympian made a deal with officials from Mauch Chunk and East Mauch Chunk. In exchange for his remains, the boroughs would combine into one and be renamed Jim Thorpe.
For locals, Jim Thorpe is more than a name, it's part of who they are.
"It's been known (as) Jim Thorpe for so many years and so many people know it as that," said Suzie Mclean, who was born and raised in Jim Thorpe.
Thorpe's son Jack Thorpe has filed a federal lawsuit against the borough in order to reclaim the body of his father.
Citing a federal law that requires Native Americans be returned to their tribal land for burial, Jack Thorpe is arguing to bring his father to their reservation in Oklahoma.
Thorpe said the agreement between his stepmother and borough officials was made against the family's wishes and now they want him buried on their Native American soil.
"We wanted to bring him home and give him a proper burial where he wanted to be," said Thorpe. "So if we win our lawsuit, then Dad will return home and he'll be a mile from where he was born. His father is buried there, his sisters are buried there, his brothers."
The mayor of Jim Thorpe said removing the body would cheat the people of the borough who held up their end of the deal.
"Fifty years ago the residents acted in good faith and they changed the name of a borough and the county changed the name of the county seat in return for what has been done," said Mayor Michael Sofranko.
And 50 years ago, the motivation for the name change was to increase tourism, something that it continues to do today. Stephen Kirby and his wife from Massachusetts were driving through when the noticed the name Jim Thorpe.
"I always think it's interesting when a town is named after a real person. Of course, I know the story of Jim Thorpe, He was a great American," said Kirby "Then we were driving into town and we saw the Jim Thorpe memorial and that made us want to stay even longer. We really learned a lot today."
Suzie McLean, who works in a record shop in Jim Thorpe, agrees the tourism dollars help but she said it's not a financial investment they have with Jim Thorpe, but an emotional one. "I think, let him be where he is. The people in the community love him and the tourists love him," said McLean.
Regarding a challenge to the lawsuit, the mayor said he and council agree that any future decisions will be up to the people of Jim Thorpe.