New opinion — Jim Thorpe will stay buried in Jim Thorpe

Ellie 834

Tourist train in the station, Jim Thorpe, PA. Photo by me.

Jim Thorpe was an extraordinary athlete. Jim Thorpe is a lovely borough in Carbon County, PA. The athlete is buried in the town. Wikipedia explains how it happened:

Following the 1953 death of renowned athlete and Olympic medal winner Jim Thorpe, Thorpe’s widow and third wife, Patricia, was angry when the government of Oklahoma would not erect a memorial to honor him. When she heard that the boroughs of Mauch Chunk and East Mauch Chunk were desperately seeking to attract business, she made a deal with civic officials. According to Jim Thorpe’s son, Jack, Patricia was motivated by money in seeking the deal. The boroughs merged, renamed the new municipality in Jim Thorpe’s honor, obtained the athlete’s remains from his wife and erected a monument to the Oklahoma native, who began his sports career 100 miles (161 kilometres) southwest, as a student at the Carlisle Indian Industrial School in Carlisle, Pennsylvania.

If it’s odd to imagine selling your ex’s remains because you need the cash, it’s even odder to imagine renaming your town after a famous guy who never set foot there as a business-recruitment scheme.

Anyway, odd and odder became a federal case when some members of Thorpe’s family sued the borough seeking return of his remains under the Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act, which requires museums to return Native Americans remains upon request by their descendants or tribe. The district court ruled in the plaintiff family members’ favor, but today CA3 reversed, holding that the Act does not apply because the borough is not a museum.

The case is Jack Thorpe v. Borough of Jim Thorpe. Opinion by McKee, joined by Chagares and Shwartz. Arguing counsel were William Schwab for the appellants, Christopher Fusco for cross-appellees, Stephen Ward for the appellees, and Daniel Wheeler for amicus curiae.