Sports History Files: Final resting places and lost confessions

It’s been 60 years since Jim Thorpe died, and was laid to rest, in the small eastern Pennsylvania town that now bears his name.

But surviving family members are continuing a long-sought effort to relocate his remains to Sac and Fox burial grounds in Oklahoma.

For The Guardian, Thom Loverro detailed the controversy over the weekend, timed for Pro Football Hall of Fame induction ceremonies, and the irony (or perhaps it’s just the passage of time) that Thorpe’s resting place has virtually no tourist impact:

Still, the town insists on holding on to Jim Thorpe’s remains – even though his two surviving sons, Richard and William, along with the Sac and Fox Nation in Oklahoma, want to bring his body back for what they believe is the proper Native American burial that was stopped in 1953. They have gone to court to sue, under the Native American Grave Protection and Repatriation Act, for the return of the remains. In April, a federal judge ruled in their favor. The town has filed a motion in court, saying it will appeal the ruling.

In the lauded 1988 film “Eight Men Out,” the Shoeless Joe Jackson character played by D.B. Sweeney “signs” his confession about throwing the 1919 World Series by making an “X” mark with a pen. But did the real Shoeless Joe — who did not know how to read or write — really do this?

For The Wall Street Journal, Ben Cohen writes about a $1 million bounty placed on a Jackson confession by a prominent auction house, just as a national sports memorabilia conference took place over the weekend in Chicago.

But some baseball historians, gathering at their own conference in Philadelphia over the weekend, are dubious.

“There are no signed confessions,” Jacob Pomrenke, chairman of the Society for American Baseball Research’s Black Sox committee, was quoted as saying.

In the John Sayles film, the confessions are said to have “disappeared.” (In the scene before that confession about the confessions in the court, there’s a private meeting between the respective attorneys for White Sox owner Charles Comiskey and New York gambler extraordinaire Arnold Rothstein, suggesting at the very least a desire on both sides to lose the paper trail to the benefit of everyone involved.)

But as Cohen recounts, Black Sox researchers insist that “Jackson’s signed confession . . . was nothing more than his testimony before a Cook County, Ill., grand jury on Sept. 28, 1920,” and that a copy of the transcript exists at the Chicago Historical Society:

The legal keepsake that Black Sox historians are certain Jackson did sign was his waiver of immunity before giving his grand-jury testimony. But even that testimony, along with its brief disappearance, was irrelevant to Jackson and his teammates being found not guilty. “It’s a big misnomer,” said David Fletcher, the founder of the Chicago Baseball Museum, who is writing a revision of “Eight Men Out.”

It’s a heavily redacted and unintelligible document, as murky as the controversy over baseball’s most shameful episode nearly a century later.

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