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The Regilding Of A Legend
Jack McCallum
October 25, 1982
Jim Thorpe's Olympic gold medals at last have been restored, but for Thorpe's family all won't be right till his body lies in ancestral ground
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October 25, 1982

The Regilding Of A Legend

Jim Thorpe's Olympic gold medals at last have been restored, but for Thorpe's family all won't be right till his body lies in ancestral ground

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It was time for the Chunks to make a move, and there was hope in Patricia's plan, or so it seemed. The National Fraternal Order of Eagles, to which Thorpe had belonged, supposedly promised Patricia it would finance a memorial. There was talk of the Pro Football Hall of Fame coming to town if Thorpe's body were there. There was talk that the Jim Thorpe Memorial Heart and Cancer Foundation would build a hospital in the town. There was talk of a Jim Thorpe museum. There was talk, talk, talk.

Of course, there would be tourists in need of lodgings, and Patricia had plans for a motel. The woman who didn't care for Indian ways would call it Jim Thorpe's Teepees.

Precisely what else Patricia was seeking, or eventually got, out of the deal with Mauch Chunk isn't clear. Two people know for sure, and one of them, the 67-year-old Boyle, now retired, except for a weekly column he writes for the Times-News, is mum on the subject. He won't say much about the late Mrs. Thorpe other than to concede that she wasn't an easy person to do business with. At times Boyle can't decide whether Jim Thorpe—the body and the town—is more his baby or his cross to bear.

The other man who knows is Bob Knappenberger, who was working at the American Hotel the day Patricia walked in carrying two Pekingese dogs. It was Knappy who finally brought her the check that officially ended her association with the town, but he won't say exactly how much the check was for.

"It certainly wasn't a lot of money," says Knappenberger, now assistant cashier at the Jim Thorpe National Bank. "It was basically just some money to get her out of town." Boyle insists she was paid no more than about $500 to cover her expenses for shipping the body.

No matter what Patricia got, no one has ever suggested that Boyle acted out of any motive but civic pride. "Joe is as honest as the day is long," says Weiksner, who has been playing Hatfield to Boyle's McCoy for 20 years. But Boyle got swept away by the vague promises of what Thorpe's body would do for the town, and he wasn't alone. In May of 1954, more than a year after Thorpe's death, the Mauch Chunkers and East Chunkers approved, by a 10-1 margin, a merger under the new name of Jim Thorpe.

"Hell, I admit I voted for it [the merger] the first time," says Weiksner. "We heard about a 400-bed hospital. There was a chance to get the Football Hall of Fame. What did you have to lose?"

Face, for one thing. Over the years, promise after promise fell through. The Eagles never came through with financing for the memorial; the $10,000 price tag for the mausoleum was paid out of the Nickel-a-Week Fund. Jim Thorpe was never seriously considered as a site for the Pro Football Hall of Fame, which was established in Canton in 1962. Bell did get involved with the Thorpe Memorial, but he suggested a lesser project than a hospital, such as a camp for underprivileged children. A few months after Bell kicked off a fund-raising appeal in 1958, he died of a heart attack during a game at Franklin Field in Philadelphia.

"I honestly think things would've been different, that a lot more would've gotten done, if Bert hadn't died," says Boyle. "I just couldn't get anyone else interested in taking over the memorial."

Whatever else can be said about Patricia, she got a town named after her husband at a time when his native state wouldn't even finance a memorial. And whatever else can be said about Boyle, he got himself a town with one name.

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