Legendary athlete made his home here in this tiny Oklahoma town

The legendary Jim Thorpe was once proclaimed the world’s greatest athlete and even today, considered by many the greatest all-around athlete in sports history. Born in what was then the Oklahoma territory, the Sac and Fox indian was coached by Pop Warner and delivered an astounding performance at the 1912 Stockholm Olympics. He is the only athlete in Olympic history to win both the Decathlon and Pentathlon. Thorpe played major league baseball for six seasons and pro football for 12 seasons often overlapping sports.

He excelled in any sport in particular football where Thorpe was the first NFL superstar and credited with boosting the fledgling league. Being inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame is merely the tip of his legacy of honors. Unfortunately for Thorpe, he was an attraction in an era before vast sums of money were thrown at athletes. He did earn a decent living but struggled (he became an alcoholic) after his playing days ended. Married three times, his third wife literally sold his body which is an amazing story onto itself.

First wife Iva Miller is the reason why Thorpe lived in Yale, Oklahoma during off-seasons from 1917 to 1923. She had relatives there. Located about 30 minutes drive east from Stillwater, Yale is far from the interstate and just a blip of 1,200 people down a country road. Yale’s brief heyday came as an oil boom town after the turn of the century. The Thorpe residence was purchased in 1968 by the Oklahoma Historical Society and Jim Thorpe Home is the only personal memorial the state possesses for its famous native son.

The house is quite modest situated on a small plot of land with a porch. The tour guide explains the number of visitors has declined in recent years though field trips of kids come through. Nothing fancy is an apt description. This is a pre-fabricated house ordered from Montgomery Ward. There is a certain quaint charm to the collection of small rooms by today’s standards which must have been crowded with three girls running around.

Nearly 90 years have elapsed since the Thorpes lived there and the house has been restored as it was. This was made possible by Thorpe’s daughters being generous in providing original furnishings and numerous personal items. The original layout has been duplicated to his stay and gives the feeling that this famous man and his family have just stepped out for a moment.

The main bedroom is the most interesting. The white bedspread is 99-years-old and came from Paris. Mrs. Thorpe’s dresses are hanging in a corner. Resting on that bedspread are a handbag she purchased in Egypt and Saks 5th Ave. box from New York that are remnants from Thorpe’s glory days. All three daughters were born in the bedroom.

How amazing these objects somehow survived time. One cannot help but notice these fragile items such as the dresses are totally exposed to the elements without any preservation measures. As they are, it enhances that unique they just stepped out feeling which is great but sooner or later will fall prey to deterioration and errant touching. The bathtub is original and there was no hot water in Thorpe’s time. The children’s room would have been cramped with the girls Gale, Charlotte and Grace and is filled with their toys and dolls. The embroidered coverlet is also original.

A small back room serves as sort mini-museum to Thorpe’s life. He has graced many postage stamps and there is his Wheaties box from the 1990s. Burt Lancaster starred as “Jim Thorpe-All American” in 1951. Walking through the kitchen and dining room come next. There is a case containing some of Thorpe’s medals (not the Olympic) which the girls used to play with. The house seems pretty nice for a catalog order.

Iva filed for divorce in 1925 claiming desertion though the real cause may have been their marriage never fully recovered from the death of only son Jim Jr. at age two. Thorpe remarried in 1926 and had four sons by his second wife. Visitors will leave with the interesting contrast of how times have changed when comparing this little unpretentious home in an obscure town to the extravagant lifestyles of current superstar athletes.