|The Thunder-Skys...left to right, |
Michael, Chief Thunder-sky and Raymond
The other day I was browsing an online database of famous people buried in Cincinnati. (Everyone does this right?) Mostly it was the familiar local athlete, businessman or politician. Many were surnames that a lot of Cincinnatians would recognize as streets or areas of town like Chase or Groesbeck, etc. As expected, almost all were buried in the beautiful and sprawling historic Spring Grove Cemetery.
Then an unusual name caught my eye...Chief Richard Brightfire Thunder-Sky. That's just not the sort of name you expect to discover in Southwest OH. I had to know more of course and lucky for me, this gentleman's grave was just a couple of miles from my house. So I did some research before going for a visit.
Born on St. Regis Mohawk Reservation in Upstate NY in 1911, Chief Richard Brightfire Thunder-Sky was apparently the "last full-blooded hereditary Sachem Chief of the Mohawk Nation". To be honest, I'm not entirely sure what that means. I know a sachem is basically the Chief of Chiefs although I'm not sure what duties he would have had in fulfilling that that role in the 20th century. It's still pretty cool and interesting since the Mohawk were not known to have ever lived in the Cincinnati area.
Chief Thunder-Sky also played parts in several old Westerns such as Gene Autry's 1950 Indian Territory and Tyrone Power's 1952 Pony Soldier. Not bad gigs at a time when many Indian parts were being played by non-Natives such as Italian-Americans for their close physical resemblance or whites with make-up.
In 1961 Thunder-Sky moved to Cincinnati OH with his wife Irene and two sons Michael and Raymond and helped organize the North American Indian Council which still operates in Mt Healthy OH. His wife of 49 years was Irene Dianna Szalatzky, the daughter of a Hungarian nobleman of the Habsburg Dynasty.
Richard died in 1989 and is buried at Arlington Memorial Gardens in Mt Healthy OH just outside of Cincinnati a couple miles from my house.
Irene died in 1994 and is also buried at Arlington but I was unable to find her marker.
Here is where the story gets a little more interesting...
If you spent any time in Cincinnati OH in the 1980s and 90s as I did you may have seen a man going about his business wearing a clown suit, donning a construction hat and carrying a toolbox. I didn't know this back then, but the mysterious man was Raymond Hiawatha Thunder-Sky, the eldest son of Chief Richard Brightfire Thunder-Sky. It turns out that Raymond was autistic and created hundreds of paintings over the years that he kept secret (he kept his art supplies in the toolbox) and revealed to his social worker in 1999 a few years prior to his death from cancer. When he died in 2004, Thunder-Sky, Inc. in Northside was founded to preserve Raymond's artistic legacy.
I won't delve any more into Raymond's history here. Many nice articles have already been written about this man. If you would like to read more about him, see some photos of him and his artwork, here is a great article
from 2010 with further links to other websites. Update 2016: Original link is dead, try this instead.