Sunday, May 27, 2007
A Town Named Jim Thorpe
Where does this photo look like it's from? Off the top of my head, I'd say Brooklyn, or Chicago. But in fact, it was taken in a tiny town named Jim Thorpe, Pennsylvania, population 4,804. It captivated my imagination when I first visted a couple years ago with my sister Kathy, on my way to visit my nephew Jay in Ithaca. On the way to Jay's graduation, I just had to check it out again.
Here are the reasons it's such a very odd place:
1) The town, built with coal mining wealth and the seat of Carbon County, was originally named Mauch Chunk, certainly one of the weirder names for a town I've ever heard. In the 1950s, the town, down on its luck and desperate for publicity, was renamed for legendary Native American athlete Jim Thorpe--who had recently died (a broken down wreck, of lip cancer) and had never set foot in the town in his life. He's now buried there.
2) Jim Thorpe is one of the denser towns I've visited in my life. Its tightly packed homes, many of them victorians, line streets terraced on a steep hillside. Stone walls and mysterious staircases abound. It feels like a swatch of European city, complete with an opera house, has been plunked down in the Pennsylvania mountains.
Jim Thorpe was created by mining, one of the more rapacious activities known to man. Some of the Mollie Maguires were hanged at the courthouse. The Mollie Maguires movie was filmed here too. But now it's full of mountain bikers and daytrippers. There's a small tattoo shop, and lots of old ladies sitting on porches.
Below, T poses with some mining equipment.
One of the town's many large and impressive mansions.