The Repatriation Act defines a museum as any institution or government agency that has received federal funds since the law was passed in 1990.
Lawyers for the borough argued that although Jim Thorpe had benefited from federal grants, it didn’t qualify as a museum because it didn’t receive the money directly. Rather, the money passed through the state or county government before being doled out for infrastructure improvements in the borough, the lawyers argued.
In his decision, Caputo examined cases that deal with the question of when receiving federal funding makes an institution or corporation subject to federal laws.
Based on evidence that the borough, in two examples, had received federal money for water meter replacement and flood control projects, it was subject to the Repatriation Act.
One expert, however, questioned whether the Repatriation Act should apply, given the circumstances of Thorpe’s burial. Sherry Hutt, the National Park Service’s Repatriation Act program manager, said that as long as Thorpe’s body remains in the mausoleum, it cannot be considered part of a museum collection.
Thorpe’s 1954 burial in Pennsylvania was the product of a deal between civic leaders in the downtrodden Carbon County boroughs of Mauch Chunk and East Mauch Chunk and Thorpe’s third wife, Patricia.
Spurred by local journalist Joe Boyle, the communities agreed to unite under Thorpe’s name and build a fitting tribute after Oklahoma’s governor balked at the cost.
Local leaders hoped the memorial would become a tourist attraction and inspire investment in the area, which struggled economically after the decline of the mining industry.
But in Yale, Okla., which calls itself the “Home of Jim Thorpe,” residents share the opinion that Thorpe was wrongly taken.
“We feel as though he was stolen from us, and in a way he was,” said Virginia Stanford, a curator at the Jim Thorpe Home museum in Yale.
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