No athlete embodies the sheer joy of competition the way that Jim Thorpe did.
He seemed to excel at everything: at the 1912 Stockholm Olympics he accomplished the never-to-be-duplicated feats of winning both the pentathlon and decathlon. As a football player at the Carlisle School, he was unparalleled
. It is said that he had trouble hitting a curve ball, but he played major league baseball for over 6 years, hitting.327 his last year. And recently someone discovered a ticket, hidden for decades in an old book, to a game featuring a barnstorming exhibition basketball team led by none other than Jim Thorpe. He dazzled on the back of a horse, on the ballroom dance floor, and even at bowling, where he averaged over 200.
Despite his celebrity, Jim Thorpe was completely unassuming. At the ticker tape parade held in his honor in New York City after his Olympic victories, he is said to have remarked that he never knew he had so many friends.
He rode his physical gifts as hard and far as they would take him, in an age when knees and shoulders could not be reconstructed, until he finally left professional sports at the age of 40 in 1928. He led a difficult life after that, until his death in 1953. A year later, his body was moved to Mauch Chunk, Pennsylvania.
To those of us who grew up knowing of the deeds and legend of the great Jim Thorpe, or who became interested in his story after ESPN anointed him the greatest athlete of the 20th century, his memorial, built by the local townspeople on a hill on the east side of town, is authentic and sincere.
Ten years after Jim Thorpe’s death, he would become one of the 17 charter members of the Pro Football Hall of Fame in Canton, Ohio, where he played his first professional football game. A seven-foot bronze statue of Jim Thorpe greets visitors as they enter the facility.
In contrast, his memorial here is a contemplative place where people can visit and ponder the life of a man whose memory our community helped revive. While Jim Thorpe never lived in Mauch Chunk, it is fitting and appropriate that he is memorialized here, in the state where he spent his happiest years, in a town that changed its name to his.
*More about Jim Thorpe on Wikipedia