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fights to keep body of namesake

Published: Thursday, Sept. 5, 2013 11:25 a.m. CST

JIM THORPE, Pa. (AP) — The hand-lettered donation jar on Anne Marie Fitzpatrick’s store counter says what many residents of this well-preserved Victorian-era town are thinking and feeling lately: “Keep Jim Thorpe in Jim Thorpe.”

The surviving sons of the famous American Indian athlete have long fought to get the remains of their father moved from Jim Thorpe, Pa., to tribal lands in Oklahoma, where he was born, and they recently won a crucial legal victory that put them close to their goal.

But Jim Thorpe isn’t letting its Olympian namesake go without a fight. Residents and business owners are helping to raise money for the town’s appeal — to be filed later this month — saying they have honored, appreciated and respected a man long considered one of the 20th century’s best athletes.

“We have no intention of letting him go,” said Fitzpatrick, an organizer of the town’s annual Jim Thorpe birthday bash. “There is a pride, and many, many people that you speak to as you go through the town share that pride.”

Thorpe was a football, baseball and track star who won the decathlon and pentathlon in the 1912 Olympics, then later starred as the Indian in B-movies and struggled financially toward the end of his life. He died without a will in 1953 at age 64.

After Oklahoma’s governor balked at the cost of a planned monument to the athlete, third wife Patricia had Thorpe’s body removed in the midst of his funeral service and sent it to northeastern Pennsylvania, where she struck a deal with two merging towns — Mauch Chunk and East Mauch Chunk — to build a memorial and name the new town after him.

Thorpe’s son, Bill Thorpe, of Arlington, Texas, said his father expressed a desire to be buried in Oklahoma.

In April, U.S. District Judge Richard Caputo ruled in favor of Thorpe, his brother Richard, and the Sac and Fox tribe to which their father belonged, saying the town amounts to a museum under the 1990 Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act.

The borough council voted to appeal the ruling to the Philadelphia-based 3rd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, and written arguments are due Sept. 23.

The athlete who never set foot in the town named after him has become an important part of its identity. The high school’s athletic teams are named, after all, the Olympians.

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