If you build it they will come - Jim Thorpe, Pennsylvania




If there was one town in Pennsylvania that had my attention from the get-go... it had to be Jim Thorpe.


Yep. Jim Thorpe is the name of the town.


It's a small Victorian borough, comfortably set at the southern entry of the Pocono Mountains. It's very well maintained and is known for being a kind of an artsy community with museums, galleries, and music venues scattered throughout the old coal town.


The town was originally settled under the name Mauch Chunk, meaning 'Bear Mountain' in the native Lenape language, as one of the mountains looked like a bear sleeping on its side. But in 1953, following the death of Olympic medal winner Jim Thorpe -- his widow and third wife, Patricia, became so upset with the government of Oklahoma (because they refused to build a monument to honor Jim) that she sought out the small PA borough, who was desperately seeking to attract new tourists, and made a deal with civic officials to create a roadside attraction of Jim's tomb.


The unusual agreement also included the borough changing its name to Jim Thorpe -- not to mention, importing soil from Oklahoma and the Stockholm Stadium where Jim won his Olympic medals.


As you can imagine, this event was not without controversy as Thorpe's children wanted him to be buried with his family on the reservation in Oklahoma and have filed numerous lawsuits to try and gain control of Jim's remains. (For more on this, check out NPR's story at the bottom of the page.)


So it final came were my travels took me through Jim Thorpe, PA. I was stoked! 


But, you know what? It was just a grave with a couple of nice statues that looked out of place. "The greatest athlete in the world" (according to King Gustov V of Sweden) is awkwardly laid to rest in a town that he never set foot in, nor is associated with in anyway, except that his burial was meant to take in cash from tourists...but that really didn't happen either.


The funny thing about Mauch Chuck is that it really doesn't need Jim Thorpe there to make this place worth your while to visit. It has art and music and shopping and restaurants and outdoor recreation and a lot of Pennsylvania charm -- it really is one of the state's best locations. Of course, if you do get there, be sure to stop by Jim's memorial...and remember...just because you build it, doesn't mean they will come.

 

{NPR's report: http://www.npr.org/2011/08/03/138524619/a-fight-for-jim-thorpes-body}

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