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Jim Thorpe, Pa., to Celebrate Namesake’s 100th Birthday

May 23, 1988

JIM THORPE, Pa. (AP) _ The town named after one of the 20th century’s greatest athletes is planning a big party for his 100th birthday, although they’re a year late according to folks Jim Thorpe’s native state of Oklahoma.

This scenic Carbon County town is enjoying a renaissance that started about the time Thorpe’s body was laid to rest here. Jim Thorpe’s Mausoleum at the borough’s east end was dedicated in 1957.

Jim Thorpe Centennial Committee officials plan to start the celebration Saturday by releasing balloons. Present will be former Philadelphia Eagles football star Chuck Bednarik and an Indian princess to discuss Thorpe’s heritage. Several North American crabapple trees will be planted to beautify the mausoleum area.

Runners are also being lined up to carry Olympic-style torches from the train station in downtown Jim Thorpe to the mausoleum. And a huge birthday cake will be on display next to the train station for everyone present to taste.

″It’ll be a traditional birthday party,″ John Gunsser, co-chairman of the centennial committee. ″We’re not looking for a carnival atmosphere; we just want to say ‘Happy Birthday’ in a down-homey kind of way.″

In Yale, Okla., however, sightseers and arts and crafts shoppers turned out Sunday for what they said was Thorpe’s 101st birthday.

″Everything went really nice,″ said Grace Thorpe, who spent the day dishing out cake and punch and giving people tours of her famous father’s home.

For several years, Thorpe’s birthdate has been a mystery. Thorpe never knew exactly when he was born, and his birth records were destroyed by fire.

″Records will show he was born in 1886, 1887, 1888; some will say May 22, some May 23,″ Ms. Thorpe said. In 1979, she said she discovered her father’s baptismal record, showing he was christened Nov. 17, 1887, and born May 22 of that year.

Ms. Thorpe, not one to play favorites with her father’s birthday, said she plans to attend the Pennsylvania celebration.

Thorpe won fame in the 1912 Olympics, winning both the decathlon and pentathlon, but his medals were taken away a month later when Olympic officials determined that he had played baseball for a small salary before entering what was supposed to be an amateur competition. His gold medals were returned to his family several years ago.

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