Jim Thorpe could do it all. He was a track star, excelled at college football and even played professional baseball. Thorpe was the undisputed star of the 1912 Olympics in Stockholm, Sweden, winning gold medals in the decathlon and pentathlon events. His medals were taken away when it was discovered he played two seasons for a semipro baseball team, but the International Olympic Committee restored his medals in 1983 — 30 years after his death.
In 1950, The Associated Press voted Thorpe as the “Greatest Athlete of the First Half of the Century.”
Thorpe’s athletic talents were discovered and nurtured at the Carlisle Indian Industrial School in Carlisle, Pennsylvania. A extremely rare original photo of a 20-year-old Thorpe with his teammates in a 1907 photograph is one of the more interesting pieces of memorabilia for auction at of RMY Auctions’ Winter Premier Auction, which began Jan. 7 and runs through Jan. 25.
The large, double weight photograph of the Carlisle Indians shows the squad in full uniform. Thorpe, a member of the Sac and Fox tribe, can be seen in the second row, the second player from the left. The photograph designates Thorpe with the number “17.” The squad was coached by Glenn “Pop” Warner, and the venerable coach is shown in the back row of the photograph at the far left, wearing a sweater. He is marked with the number “1.”
Warner’s squad went 10-1 in 1907. Thorpe was in his first year playing for the football team. He was a undersized player that season, but persuaded Warner to let him play football. Warner, not wanting to risk injury to his top track and field athlete, reluctantly agreed.
The Carlisle squad went 10-1 in 1907, winning their first seven games and outscoring their opponents by a 267-62 margin. Victory No. 7 came against a Penn squad that won every other game and was considered the national champions of college football. Carlisle won that Oct. 26, 1907, game 26-6 before an overflow crowd of 20,000 fans at Philadelphia’s Franklin Field.
Carlisle lost its only game the following week against Princeton, but then won their final three games on the road at Harvard, Minnesota and Chicago.
Thorpe would earn third-team All-America honors in 1908 and was a first-teamer in 1911 and 1912.
The photo offered by RMY Auctions is an 11-inch by 14-inch shot. There are some creases, and it appears some preservation efforts have been made to keep the photograph intact. However, the original gelatin surface remains.
RMY said the photo’s overall grade was 8 out of 10, with a condition that grades 3 out of 5. Quality of the photo is 5/5.
President Dwight D. Eisenhower, who played against Thorpe while with Army, recalled Thorpe’s efforts in 1912 game against the Cadets. Thorpe ran for a 92-yard touchdown, but the play was nullified by a penalty. Undaunted, Thorpe ran for a 97-yard touchdown on the next third-team.
“Here and there, there are some people who are supremely endowed,” Eisenhower said in 1961, recalling Carlisle’s 27-6 victory. “My memory goes back to Jim Thorpe. He never practiced in his life, and he could do anything better than any other football player I ever saw.”