March 30, 2005

TICKET TO HISTORY (via The Mother Judd):

Jim Thorpe and a Ticket to Serendipity (BILL PENNINGTON, 3/29/05, NY Times)

When Anthony Barone Jr. went to a local book auction with his sister Lee early this month, they came across a book from the 1920's, "Jesse James and His Greatest Hauls," a Wild West adventure of daring holdups.

Unimpressed by the condition of the book's cover, Anthony was not interested in purchasing it. But when the bidding crested at $6, Lee looked at her brother. "What's six bucks?" she said.

Anthony and Lee took the book home and ignored it for a week. They contemplated putting it back up for auction the next week, when Anthony decided he would at least flip through it.

"I started leafing through the pages, and out dropped this big red ticket," said Barone, a 44-year-old purchasing manager from Jamestown, N.Y. "It literally fell into my lap."

The ticket, six inches long, in good condition and with its stub still attached, was for an exhibition basketball game featuring Jim Thorpe and "His World Famous Indians" on March 1, 1927. It did not indicate where the game was being played, other than at a Y.M.C.A. gym. Other teams listed on the ticket - "Clothes Shop," "New Process" and "Bankers" - were mysteries.

What has followed is a story of discovery and rediscovery. Barone's red ticket, according to several historians who have chronicled the life of Thorpe, who was a star athlete in football, baseball and track and field in the early 20th century, is like an archeological find.

Artifacts of Thorpe's athletic career, generally conceded to have ended in 1928, are rare and valuable. Nearly every authority on Thorpe's life and times, including his son, did not know he had played basketball at a high level as an adult. The ticket has helped uncover a 45-game barnstorming tour centered in Pennsylvania in which Thorpe, then 39, led a team of American Indian all-star basketball players.

"I didn't know what any of it meant," Barone said of the ticket. "But I kept thinking that some 14-year-old kid thought enough of that game that he didn't even let the usher rip the stub off. He had gone to see an American hero, and then he stuffed the ticket in his favorite book about the old West, and that's where it's been for 80 years.

"I felt it must mean something."

Opening old books is often an adventure.

Posted by Orrin Judd at March 30, 2005 4:45 PM
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