On February 12, a unique event for lovers of theater and Native American history occurred at the Penn Museum in Philadelphia with the staged reading of the play “My Father’s Bones,” by Suzan Shown Harjo and Mary Kathryn Nagle. Thorpe, an Olympic gold medalist, professional athlete, and enrolled member of the Sac and Fox Nation, died in 1953. A battle over his remains ensued, and has yet to be resolved.
Thorpe’s body was essentially stolen from the Tribe moments before he was to be buried on Sac and Fox land, in accordance with his wishes. “Researching the play, we learned that Patsy burst into the funeral and, with the assistance of an Oklahoma State Trooper, removed his body,” says Suzan Shown Harjo. “She then proceeded to sell Jim Thorpe’s body for a few thousand dollars to a town in Pennsylvania that hoped to use his body to attract tourism and enhance its local economy. This town, originally comprised of East and West Chunk, re-named itself after the human body it purchased as the Borough of Jim Thorpe, Pennsylvania.”
It is against this backdrop that “My Father’s Bones” plays out. Following the reading, which ends at the 42-minute mark in the clip below, there is a discussion of the Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act. The reading was presented in conjunction with the Penn Museum’s Native American Voices exhibit.