Jim Thorpe is an ordinary American town. It has never tried to be anything else. People come here to see Main Street America, a place connected to the past, because in Jim Thorpe it’s still alive. Deep within this tiny valley some quality we associate with a more innocent time exists. Its spirit has not been crushed by the crassness of American mall culture. I’ve come to realize after living here for nearly thirty years, there’s something special about this place. This is the reason it’s become a popular tourist destination. This is why Grace Thorpe, Jim Thorpe’s oldest daughter, was so supportive of his presence here.
Being an educated woman of Native American descent, Grace recognized the magic of ordinary things. Connecting with the people of this place, she appreciated the sincerity with which we honored her father. She also appreciated his significance not only as a Native American, but as a Native American hero, and what that meant to a small Pennsylvania town stripped of its coal just as Jim Thorpe was stripped of his medals.
Grace Thorpe understood that rising to higher levels on the stepping stones of our dead selves could apply both to a town and to a hero.
In September of 2000, for the Jim Thorpe Birthday Celebration, Shozo Nagano, a local Japanese-born artist, was asked by the Jim Thorpe National Bank to design a poster. I helped to coordinate this project.
Shozo was at first reluctant to commit to the work until he had a vision in a place he often went to for meditation: The “Indian Steps” climb up Mount Pisgah near the lake, so-called because they follow an Indian trail that crossed this valley to the Moravian settlement of Gnaddenhuetten, where an Indian massacre took place in the 1700s.
In his vision at the top of the “Indian Steps, Shozo saw the spirit of a young Jim Thorpe running through the clouds. The spirit had a message for him: a message of happiness and love. This vision became the design for his poster. I remember, because I did the layout for the printer at the Times News. The birthday gathering brought a diversity of people to the main room of what is now called Penn’s Peak, where a peace-beyond-understanding prevailed. Out of the corner of my eye, I saw Shozo Nagano speaking with Grace Thorpe. The vision remains poised in my mind: an ample Indian woman, looking much like her father, holding the tiny hands of a Japanese artist. It is unfortunate, in my opinion, that not all members of the family share this view. But even more disappointing is the litigious cunning that passes for justice today in America.
Stone Row, Jim Thorpe