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Legal Battle Looms Over Jim Thorpe’s Remains

Jack Thorpe has waited 57 years to bury his famous father properly. After the legendary American Indian athlete Jim Thorpe died in 1953, some enterprising souls who were eager to attract tourists to the Pocono Mountains struck a deal with his widow, Patricia, to locate his grave in a new borough they named Jim Thorpe, Pa. This summer, Jack Thorpe, the youngest of four boys in the family, sued to move his father’s remains to Shawnee, Okla. He is basing his appeal on a 1990 federal law governing claims on American Indian remains by their descendants. Whatever the court decides, Thorpe says, “I’ll know I tried to honor my father’s wishes and put him where he wanted to be—buried with his father, brothers, and sisters.”


 Law notes previously thought to be those of Thomas Jefferson now have been judged the work of James Madison. The 39 pages on common law cases, covering a broad array of legal topics—from criminal matters to breaches of promise to marry—have produced a reappraisal of the fourth president, who hadn’t been thought to have a deep interest in the law. Experts say the two men had very similar handwriting, but the use of language, paper watermarks and the number system all pointed toward No. 4 instead of No. 3.

Archaeologists Locate Notorious Confederate Prison

The ruins of a Confederate stockade built to hold the overflow from Georgia’s infamously crowded Andersonville prison have surfaced 50 miles south of Augusta. Camp Lawton housed some 10,000 POWs before being burned by General William Sherman’s army just six weeks after it opened in October 1864. The artifacts found at the site include a gruesome testimony to the war: a buckle used to cut off blood flow during amputations.

Missing Audubon Drawing Found on BankNote

Two scholars have located John James Audubon’s first published bird illustration—a grouse the artist mentioned in diary entries in 1824 and 1826 that subsequently did a disappearing act. Robert Peck, a curator at the Academy of Natural Sciences in Philadelphia, and numismatic historian Eric Newman recently discovered the drawing of a heath hen—a type of extinct grouse—on proofs for bank notes in Ohio and Connecticut. Whether the notes circulated probably mattered less to young Audubon, Peck and Newman write, than being able to cite the work to the accomplished English engravers he used for his monumental The Birds of America.

Rare Tad Lincoln Photo Surfaces

Like countless children since the invention of photography, 8-yearold Tad Lincoln does not look pleased to be posing for the rare 1861 image recently donated to the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library and Museum. The tinted photo, taken 10 years before Lincoln’s youngest son died, probably by Mathew Brady, came from St. Louis–area descendants of Colonel Richard Dawson Goodwin, along with two letters to him from the president.

Scarlett O’Hara’s Gowns Need Mending

Five fragile costumes from the Hollywood epic Gone With the Wind—including the gown Scarlett O’Hara fashioned from green velvet curtains for a visit to Rhett Butler—are at risk of coming apart at the seams. Looking ahead to the movie’s 75th anniversary in 2014, the gowns’ caretakers at the Ransom Center of the University of Texas at Austin are raising $30,000 to prepare them for a traveling exhibition.

Civil War Reenactor Shines Spotlight on Slave Cabins

The first night Civil War reenactor Joseph McGill slept in a slave cabin, the sound of barking woke him at 3 a.m., making him think of dogs chasing escaping slaves. The overnight—conducted for a history documentary—launched him on a personal campaign to draw attention to these often-neglected structures. McGill, who by day is a program officer for the National Trust for Historic Preservation in Charleston, has spent six nights in slave cabins around South Carolina, with more dates lined up. “Some folks are convinced this is not the right thing to do and would rather keep this obscure. That’s what keeps me going. I do this to honor those that endured.”

Custer Battle Flag Up for Grabs

One of only two surviving banners from General George Custer’s 1876 battle at Little Bighorn, will be sold in October by the Detroit Institute for the Arts. Sergeant Ferdinand Culbertson found the swallow-tailed 28-by-41-inch silk battle guidon while burying the dead, and his family sold it to a Detroit museum in 1895 for $54. Sotheby’s estimates that the rare flag may now fetch between $2 and $5 million.

Nuclear Test Site Designated Landmark

The United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization recently chose the Bikini Atoll in the Pacific as a new World Heritage Site, marking the cultural significance of the United States’ atmospheric testing of 23 nuclear devices there from 1946 to 1958. Although resettlement of the atoll was aborted in the early ’70s, the island group has been acclaimed as one of the world’s finest diving sites. If the UNESCO designation drives more tourists to explore the wreckage of ships that were sunk during atomic testing, they should stay away from the local coconut and breadfruit, which still deliver a little too much cesium-137.

Court-Martial Records Show Lincoln’s Merciful Side

In June a Virginia couple donated photocopies of 1,100 Civil War courtmartial records—the fruit of a decade of research— to the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library in Springfield, Ill. Thomas and Beverly Lowry sifted through 78,000 documents at the National Archives looking for records bearing notes from Lincoln. In one case Lincoln wrote, “I am appealed to in behalf of Daniel Hanson, of 97th New York, said to be under sentence of death for desertion. Please inform me as usual.” Unfortunately, the letter was intercepted by spies. He sent a second note the next day, but it failed to reach General George Meade, the supervising general, before the soldier was executed.

Christopher Columbus Lands in Puerto Rico

A 350-foot-tall, 600- ton statue of Christopher Columbus has finally found a home in Puerto Rico after completing a circuitous journey from the Old World to the New. Russian artist Zurab Tsereteli created the towering sculpture in 1992 for the sesquicentennial of Columbus’ “discovery” of the New World, but during the past two decades, New York City, Baltimore, Miami and Columbus, Ohio, all refused to accept it as a gift. Although the design of the bronze objet was approved during a 1991 tour of Tsereteli’s Moscow studio by President George H.W. Bush, a 1997 Baltimore Sun editorial summoned this aesthetic sneer: “From Russia With ‘Ugh.’”


Originally published in the December 2010 issue of American History. To subscribe, click here