Jim Thorpe - Gold metals stolen - returned
Tulsa World
September 19, 1998

Thorpe's gold medals stolen from state Capital Rotunda

by Chuck Erwin and Brian Ford
World Capitol Bureau

OKLAHOMA CITY - The Olympic metals that Jim Thorpe's family fought for decades to have restores to him were stolen late Thursday from the state Capitol. "I just feel terrible," Gail Thorpe, 81, the famous Olympian's daughter, said in a telephone interview from her home in Yale. "We thought that when we donated the medals to the state that they'd be safe. It just seems... all these little tragedies keep happening." The Thorpe family donated the two Olympic gold medals to the Oklahoma Historical Society in 1987. The medals have been on display under Thorpe's portrait in the Capitol's fourth-floor Rotunda since then.

Authorities believe that at least two people took part in the theft. The heist is under investigation by the Oklahoma Highway Patrol and the Capitol Patrol, whose job it is to provide security at the Capitol.

OHP Capt. Jim Roper said the medals were taken about 8:45 p.m. Thursday. That's when a Capitol Patrol offices noticed that a security cameras that monitors the Rotunda had been "compromised." Roper wouldn't say how the camera was compromised or why it took security officers 5 to 10 minutes to reach the display area. The Capitol security office and closed-circuit television monitors are in the basement. Roper said three Capitol Patrol officers were on duty at the times.

The medals were displayed in a Plexiglass case secured to a metal base by 10 screws. The thieves removed the screws and opened the case. Roper said they may have used a power screwdriver.

He said a cleaning crew of eight to 10 people were working in the Capitol at the time. There area no suspects so far, officials say. There also is no videotape of the thieves. The security cameras at the Capitol merely monitor activity and do nor record it.

"This is an affront to all citizens and particularly to his (Thorpe's) family," Roper said. "I hope the individuals involved recognize the importance of the metals to the citizens of our state."

Thorpe was proclaimed the greatest athlete of the first half of the 20th century in a survey conducted by The Associated Press. A member of the Sac and Fox tribe and a native Oklahoman Thorpe was a star athlete at the Carlisle Indian School in Pennsylvania, played professional foot ball in the early days of the National Football League and was a major league baseball player with the New York Giants. He was a charter inductee into the Football Hall of Fame.

But his greatest fame came from his spectacular performance in the 1912 Olympics in Stockholm, Sweden, where he won the decathlon and the pentathlon. King Gustav V of Sweden told him: "Sir, you are the greatest athlete in the world." The International Olympic Committee later discovered that Thorpe had played a season of semi-pro football. Under the rules at that time, it was enough to disqualify him, and he was forced to return the metals.

Dan Mahoney, Gov. Frank Keating's communications coordinator, and one of the original metals was destroyed in a fire and the other was lost.

Thorpe dies in California in 1953. Members of his family waged, a relentless campaign for many years to right what they considered as injustice and have his metals restored. In 1982, the IOC relented and had new metals cast, which were presented to the Thorpe family in 1983. The family gave them to the state in 1987.

Each of Thorpe's children also has a replica of his 1912 Olympic medals, Gail Thorpe said. Six of his children from two marriages are living, she said. She said perhaps more replicas could be issued by the International Olympic Committee.

Grace Thorpe, 77, of Prague, said that during the ceremony in which the Thorpe family gave the medals to the state, she thought the medals "didn't seem very secure."

She said she suspects that memorabilia collectors may have taken the medals. "I know these collectors are all fanatics," she said, recalling a time when a collector stationed himself in the front yard of her former home in New York in hopes of obtaining an item that belonged to her father. Grace Thorpe said she planned to call some collectors to warn them about the missing medals.

Historical Society Director Blake Wade said the gold-plated medals have little intrinsic worth but are priceless for historical reasons. "It's impossible to estimate their value," he said. "They're the only two medals out there. On the black market, I can't even imagine what they are worth."

Authorities believe it will be difficult for the thieves to dispose of the medals since they are the only ones of their kind unless they fins a private collector who is willing to deal in stolen goods.

"They have pretty tight security at the Capitol, don't they?" Gail Thorpe asked. "Why do people do these things?"

Five Capitol entrances are accessible to the public, but all entrances except one are locked at night. Unlike the nation's Capitol in Washington, D.C., there are no metal detectors or guards at the doors. The Capital is located in a high crime area of Oklahoma City. Through the years, purse snatchings and muggings have occurred in the vicinity of the Capitol parking lots. Legislative offices also have been pilfered on occasion. Weekend and after-hours visitors are supposed to sign a register, but that rule is routinely ignores. Inadequate security is a frequent complaint of many who work at the Capitol.

Members of the Capitol Patrol have complained privately that they are understaffed.

The Shawnee News-Star
October 1, 1998

Janitor returns Jim Thorpe medals to State Capital
Thorpe daughter remembers fight for father's medals

by Michelle Boyd Waters

The Amateur Athletic Union stripped Prague native James "Jim" Francis Thorpe of his 1912 Olympic track and field gold medals in 1913, stating that he had played professional baseball 1909-10 and therefore did not qualify to win the amateur sports awards.

Family, friends and sports enthusiasts fought to have Thorpe reinstated as an amateur and have the medals returned to him. They won those battles in 1973 and 1983, respectively. But 15 years later, the medals were stolen again - this time from Oklahoma State Capitol exhibit and allegedly by an 18-year-old janitor. The janitor, Terry D. Anderson, Oklahoma City, turned himself in Sept. 24 to the Oklahoma Highway Patrol and also returned the medals, according to a report by The Associated Press.

"I received a phone call Friday morning from Dan Mahoney," said Thorpe's daughter, Grace Francis Thorpe, Prague, during an interview Tuesday afternoon. "he said he was from Gov. (Frank) Keating's office and 'I have bad news.' He said Dad's medals have been stolen and I caught my breath. When we (Thorpe's family) gave them to the state, we thought they'd be secure."

The 77-year-old woman said her father's medals have been an ongoing topic for journalists and readers since the AAU took them in 1913. "I thought this is still providing fodder for readers and journalists," Ms Thorpe said. "At first I felt bad, but then I realized that I've got this 'Jim Thorpe: Athlete of the Century' campaign going and at least this is drawing attention to Dad again."

Ms. Thorpe said Mahoney called her again Monday to report that the medals had been returned. "He said the governor will see that the medals' security is better," she said.

Ms. Thorpe and her family, however, has not always trusted others to take care of her father and his medals.

Thorpe died in Lomita, Calif., in 1953. His third wife, Patricia Askew of Kentucky, agreed with family members that the Oklahoma sports legend should be buried in his native state.

Ms. Thorpe said Thorpe's father is buried at Garden Grove cemetary, south of Mocassin Trail Road and Prague. She said the Oklahoma state legislature had appropriated funds to build a memorial at the site, but then Gov. Johnston Murray vetoed the resolution.

So Thorpe's wife made an agreement with two communities in Pennsylvania - Mauch Chuck and East Mauch Chunk - to unite the towns under Thorpe's name and build a memorial and burial site to him there. Civic leaders agreed to the plan and Thorpe was buried about one year after his death in the state where he first achieved college football fame at Carlisle Indian School.

Family members helped convince the AAU to reinstate Thorpe as an amateur because the rules in 1912 stated that officials had 30 days to contest an athlete's amateur status. Officials did not contest Thorpe's status until six months after the 1912 Olympic games in Stockholm, Sweden, according to Jim Thorpe: World's Greatest Athlete by Gregory Richards.

"Dad is a natinal figure," Ms Thorpe aid. "When former Gov. George Nigh was in office, he said there were many well-known people in the state, but few in Oklahoma are known throughout the nation and only one is known internationally - Jim Thorpe. That was before Shannon Miller (Olympic gold medalist in gymnastics in the early 1990s)."

Ms. Thorpe said many people tried in 1913 to get Thorpe's medals returned to him and people continued to try after his death.

"When I was a kid, I remember somebody was always writing about Dad getting his medals back," Ms. Thorpe said. "Dad said he never wrote a letter to get the medals back. But he was kind of bitter about them taking the medals away from him.

Ms. Thorpe said she remembers when the Ohio Jaycees chapter launched a year-ong campaign to convince the AAU to change her father's status.

She said that finally she appealed to Jack Kelly (brother of actress Grace Kelly and member of the AAU to speak on Thorpe's behalf in 1972. "I heard that Jack Kelly spoke eloquently and the AAU voted unanimously to change Dad's status to amateur in 1973.

In 1976, Ms. Thorpe said she appealed to then President Gerald Ford to ask the International Olympic Committee to return the medals to the family during their executive committee meeting in Montreal, Canada. President of the IOC Lord Killanin brought up the issue at the meeting and the committee tabled it, according to Richards' book.

Ms. Thorpe asked the Sen. Alan Cranston of California to introduce a resolution to the U.S. Congress requesting that the IOC restore the medals and write Thorpe's records back into the books. The resolution passed in 1976 and the IOC officially returned duplicates of the medals in a ceremony in 1983.

According to Richards' book, the second place pentathlon and decathlon winners in the 1912 Olympics, Ferdinand Bie and Hugo Wieslander had been given the meals after they were taken from Thorpe. "It was agreed that it would be unfair to take them back so many years later," Richards' book states. "So the committee decided to award duplicates of the medals to each of Thorpe's seven grown children."

Thorpe was also listed in the record books as a co-champion in the events. Despite having to share the credit for his Olympic wins, Thorpe is still considered the first U.S. athlete the decathlon and the only athlete in the world to win the decathlon and pentathlon during one Olympic year. For Thorpe's Olympic accomplishments, he also received a life-size bust of King Gustav V of Sweden and a Viking Ship encrusted with semi-precious jewels from Nicholas II, the last czar of Russia. The gifts are currently housed at the International Olympic Committee Museum, a private museum in Lausanna, Switzerland.

Thorpe's excellence went beyond the track and field events. Thorpe established his amateur football record as a student at Carlisle Indian School and was chosen to Walter Camp's First Team All American Half-Back in 1911 and 1912. He was a founding father of professional football and served as the first president of the American Professional Football Association, now known as the National Football League. Thorpe also played major league baseball with the New York Giants, the Cincinnati Reds and the Boston Braves. He ended the 1919 season with a .327 average. Thorpe is the only American athlete to excel as an amateur and professional in three major sports - track and field, football and baseball.

An Associated Press poll of sports writers in 1950 named Thorpe as America's Greatest All-Around Male Athlete and the greatest football player of the half-century. Sport Magazine in 1977 listed Thorpe as the Greatest American Football Player in History. The athlete was enshrined in the National Indian Hall of Fame, the Helms Professional Football Hall of Fame, the Professional Football Hall of Fame in Canton, Ohio, the National Track and Field Hall of Fame and the Halls of Fame in Pennsylvania and Oklahoma.

"Dad was in his middle 30s when I was born," Ms. Thorpe said. "I can recall going to a baseball game Dad played in and seeing him do drop kicks from the center of a football field to the goal and then turning around and doing it the other way when I was a kid at Haskell Institute (an Indian school) in Lawrence, Kan." Thorpe was a 5-year-old student at the school when her father performed in the stadium.

However, she said her father was on his way out of sports when she was born. "He was having a real struggle then, having trouble making a living," Ms. Thorpe said. "At one time I remember him digging ditches. It was honorable work to buy shoes for his kids during the Depression."

Ms. Thorpe said she remembers her father giving lectures on sports and Native American topics at the universities and schools and serving as a casting director for Hollywood studio who helped hire Indians for Indian roles. Ms. Thorpe said her father also helped convince the federal government to give the money it was appropriating directly to the tribes instead of funnelling it through the Bureau of Indian Affairs, which she said would take a portion of the money to pay bureaucratic costs.

Thorpe also had hobbies, his daughter said. "He was not a talker, but he liked to hunt and fish," Ms. Thorpe said. "I can still see him on some of the piers that go out into the ocean."

She said he had hunting dogs and liked to go 'coon hunting.' "In our Hawthorne neighborhood, the dogs were not popular when the moon was out," she said. "The dogs would be howling and they would call the police. The police would come out and ask my Dad if he could get the dogs to stop howling. But the dogs just wanted to go hunting."

Today Ms. Thorpe spends her time working as a volunteer anti-nuclear activist, working on her Jim Thorpe campaign and cutting ribbons for the openings of new buildings such as schools, government buildings and sports complexes bearing her father's name.

Jim Thorpe - Athlete of the Century page ||| NECONA