Thursday, May 3, 2012

Meet the Thunder-Skys

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. 

Unfortunately, it was difficult to find further information on Chief Richard Brightfire Thunder-Sky to fill in the gaps in his life. It seems the son eclipsed the father. I don't know what brought Richard to Cincinnati or why he quit the movie business. Or what happened to the younger brother Michael. Or how Irene lived out her final years. Even Richard's IMDB entries for his movies were hodgepodge and incomplete due to uncredited roles. However, much has been written about his son Raymond who not only was a half-blooded Mohawk, but also the descendant of Hungarian royalty on his Mother's side. I never would have guessed this as I saw him wandering around town back in the day known only to me as "the Construction Clown". 
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.


  1. very cool Brian!

  2. Is there a complete catalog of the graves in Spring Grove / Arlington / etc...?

  3. Short answer is No, not that I am aware of.

    Long answer is, has a lot of user submitted information, not just famous people. I've found the locations of some of my deceased relatives on that website.
    Also, as you know, Hamilton County has scanned in a lot of paper records and put them online here:
    A noble effort but awkward to use. You have to download the multi-page tif and then have a tif viewer.
    Arlington incidentally is one of those memorial gardens where all the gravestones lay flat. I don't really care for that myself and it's hard to find the grave you are looking for even when you have a marker location code. Also, as you know while geocaching, you can find many interesting gravestones, but you can't do that at a place like Arlington.

  4. He was an awesome godfather....I now want to find the tape recordings Irene made for me. I miss them....

  5. I remember Chief Thunder-Sky from the VA. He was a quiet and sweet man.

  6. I remember this wonderful family from living next door to them in the mid-1970s. Reenie used to stay with me at night once in awhile and Chief Thunder-sky made me catnip tea while I had mumps and a raging fever, and cured me. They were lovely people. I knew as a child that Raymond was autistic, although I did not know what it was--he was a very nice, quiet person in a grown up body, as I told my mom. He was not like other grown ups--he took time to see little things that most people missed. I loved them all. Xx

  7. My grandmother who resides in Brantford Ontario is Richard’s niece and has photos of him and his siblings and mother

  8. Chief Richard Thundersky is my great-uncle on my mother’s side...his sister Theresa Adams Thompson was my grandmother.

  9. Found the graves of Richard and Raymond while visiting my husband's grave nearby.Their gravesites are shown incorrectly on the sight maps given by the
    cemetery. Richard's is 196 C4 and Richard's is nearby under a beautiful big shrub.