Wills, Trusts & Estates Prof Blog

Editor: Gerry W. Beyer
Texas Tech Univ. School of Law

Sunday, March 25, 2012

Bizarre Story Surrounding Jim Thorpe's Burial

Thorpe_Jim_HS_180-220On the day of athlete Jim Thorpe’s Native American funeral on April 12, 1953, his third wife, Patsy Thorpe, interrupted the service by pulling up with a hearse and a highway patrol officer. Pasty then ordered that Jim’s coffin be loaded into the hearse, and she drove away with the body. Patsy shopped Jim’s body around during the following months in hopes of finding a memorial for him and a hefty paycheck for herself.

She finally convinced two neighboring boroughs in the Poconos of Pennsylvania, Mauch Chunk and East Chunk,  to unit under the name “Jim Thorpe” in exchange for Jim’s body. Civil leaders of the Chunks hoped the memorial and the name change would help bring prosperity to the area. Jim Thorpe lies in a red marble mausoleum in Jim Thorpe, PA to this day.

Jim’s four sons sued two years ago in federal court asking that their father’s body be buried in or near the Thorpe family plot in Oklahoma just ask Jim had wanted. Jim Thorpe, PA has refused to return the body.  

For more on this story see Neely Tucker, Battle Over Athlete Jim Thorpe’s Burial Site Continues, The Washington Post, Mar. 5, 2012.

Special thanks to Richard Mattersdorff (Attorney, El Paso, TX) for bringing this article to my attention. 


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This report is NOT true. I was at Jim Thorpe's funeral at the St. Benedict's Catholic Church in Shawnee OK. He had lain in state at the funeral home until the funeral and I walked down to the site that day with my grandad and we watched the event with the cars and people. His wife did not pull up in a hearse with a highway patrolman. In fact, after the funeral there his body was taken out north of town to a Sac & Fox farm where they had a native ceremony then his body laid in a vault at Fairview Cemetery for several weeks as the townspeople of Shawnee raised funds to have a final resting place for him. When the governor of OK refused the match the funds THEN Thorpe's wife "sold" him to Pennsylvania and DID bring a hearse and highway patrolman. But that was months after his funeral which I witnessed!

Posted by: J.A. McDonald | Feb 9, 2023 7:17:44 PM

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