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In 1982, Mr. Wheeler and his wife, Florence Ridlon, founded the Jim Thorpe Foundation. Working out of a tiny Washington, D.C. office, they won the support of then-Speaker of the House Tip O’Neill and Congress.

The IOC didn’t budge.

“They originally took Thorpe’s medals away seven months after the Olympics,” Ms. Ridlon said. “We had heard there was a rule stating that if a challenge wasn’t made to a competitor within 30 days, the victory would stand. But the IOC kept saying there were no written regulations for the 1912 games. What we needed was some kind of proof.”

Ms. Ridlon searched the Library of Congress’ card catalog. Nothing. A librarian let her browse the library’s metal bookcases. Hours later, she had found rules for every Olympics except 1912.

Discouraged, Ms. Ridlon headed for the exit. Something made her pause. She went back to the stacks, reaching her hand between two bookcases. She felt a piece of paper.

“I opened it up,” she said. “It was the rules and regulations for the 1912 Olympics. There was Rule 13 — a challenge [to amateur status] had to be done within 30 days [of the closing ceremony] to take away someone’s medals.”

Ms. Ridlon wept. Soon after, the IOC reinstated Thorpe as a contender in the 1912 Olympics and gave replacement gold medals to his family.

Final rest?

Another true story: During Thorpe’s 1953 Native American burial service in Oklahoma, his third wife and widow, Patricia, pulled up in a hearse.

Declaring that Thorpe was “too cold,” she took his body and coffin to Pennsylvania, where the small towns of Mauch Chunk and East Mauch Chunk had agreed to combine and change their name to Jim Thorpe, Pa. in a macabre bid to attract tourists.

Today, Thorpe’s remains still lie in a mausoleum there while his four sons have fought a decades-long, unresolved court battle to return their father to Oklahoma.

One of those sons, Bill Thorpe, is a close friend of Mr. Wheeler’s family — so much so that Mr. Wheeler’s 23-year-old son, Rob, considers him a grandfather figure.

Last Thanksgiving, Bill Thorpe had dinner with the Wheelers. Afterward, he opened up about his father’s interrupted burial.

“I saw how much it pains him,” the younger Wheeler said. Determined to help bring closure to the case, he created a website, jimthorperestinpeace.com, that includes a petition asking that Thorpe’s body be returned to Oklahoma. More than 100 American Indian tribes support the effort.

Rob also has spoken at two public forums in Jim Thorpe, Pa., to build support for his cause.

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