Funerals Can Be Messy Family Affairs

Mar 19, 2012 | 0 comments

Perhaps you think your family stresses you out at life cycle events? Check out the start of this Washington Post Magazine story by Neely Tucker regarding the funeral of Olympic athlete Jim Thorpe in 1953 (and what came afterwards).

PRAGUE, Okla. — Funerals, like weddings, can be messy family affairs. Not everything goes according to plan. Emotions run high. Even pleasant people can be tense.

Few people who met Patsy Thorpe — third and most difficult spouse of Jim Thorpe, that primordial American athlete — accused her of being pleasant, in particular Thorpe’s children from previous marriages.

So when she pulled up to her husband’s in-progress Native American funeral service at a farm near here on the night of April 12, 1953, with a hearse and a highway patrolman in tow, everybody knew something bad was about to happen.

What transpired, however, is perhaps unmatched in the history of American funeral proceedings.

She barged into the service and announced that her dead husband was “too cold.”

She ordered the coffin loaded into the hearse, then drove away, taillights disappearing into the darkness.

Over the next several months, she shopped the body around, looking for a memorial for him and cash for her. After alienating almost everyone, she wound up 1,340 miles away in the Poconos of Pennsylvania, asking two tiny boroughs straddling a bend in the Lehigh River — Mauch Chunk and East Mauch Chunk — to unite under the name “Jim Thorpe” in exchange for his corpse.

It was macabre, it was bizarre, but the Chunks, once vacation getaways for U.S. presidents and the East Coast smart set, were desperate. Their coal-based fortunes had devolved into mid-century squalor. Civic leaders hoped the name change and a memorial might be their ticket back to prosperity.

With a parade, tooting horns and a marching band, they signed the deal, and today Jim Thorpe lies in a red marble mausoleum in Jim Thorpe, Pa.

This might be the end of the story, except for the fact that the four sons of Jim Thorpe never forgave and they never forgot.

They have asked, pleaded and two years ago sued in federal court to force the borough to right their stepmother’s wrong. They want to bury their father where he wanted: in or near the Thorpe family plot on the Great Plains of rural Oklahoma, about a mile from where he was born.

Wow, talk about estranging your relatives! Read the rest of the story. This twisting tale provides a very good reason to have an in-depth conversation about what you want for your final arrangements and ensure how those plans will be implemented. Don’t just talk about it – do something!

A Good Goodbye