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Stealing Lincoln's Body

a non-fiction book by Thomas J. Craughwell

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One of the most bizarre episodes in American history.

  • Sep 29, 2009
It was an incident that I had never heard of or read about anywhere.  Indeed, when I asked about a dozen friends and relatives not one of them had ever heard about it either.  On Election Night 1876 Terrence Mullen and Jack Hughes attempted to steal the body of Abraham Lincoln from the sarcophagus inside the Lincoln Monument at Oak Ridge Cemetery in Springfield, Il.  It was all part of a bizarre plot concocted by a two-bit counterfeiter known as Big Jim Kennally "Stealing Lincoln's Body" recalls this somewhat obscure tidbit of history.  This is a fascinating tale that will go a long way to help the reader understand just what was going on in these United States back in 1876 and in the years that followed.

Perhaps the most important fact that you will come across in "Stealing Lincoln's Body" is that in 1876 nearly half of the money in circulation was counterfeit.  I found this to be absolutely incredible!  This was a serious problem that was wreaking havoc with the nation's economy as we attempted to bounce back from the Civil War.  One of the most accomplished counterfeiters of that era was a man named Benjamin Boyd who hailed from Cincinnati, OH which at that time was recognized as the counterfeit capitol of the nation.   It was his arrest and incarceration in October, 1875 that would eventually lead to the plot to steal the body of President Lincoln.

"Stealing Lincoln's Body" reveals the intimate details of how the plot to steal the President's body and hold it for ransom was hatched.  You will be introduced to Elmer Washburn, chief of the Secret Service and to detective Patrick Tyrrell who were both instrumental in foiling the plot to steal Lincoln's body.  And you will meet John Carroll Power, the custodian of the Lincoln Monument and the group of men who were part of a secret society that would come to be known as "The Lincoln Guard of Honor".  In addition, you will discover the fascinating secret about the actual whereabouts of President Lincoln's body in the years following the attempt to steal it.  You will also learn a bit about what was going on in the very sad life of Abraham Lincoln's widow Mary.   She would never get over the assasination of her husband.   In addition, you will gain some new insights into the life of the Lincoln's only surviving son Robert Todd Lincoln.  Robert would have to be classified as somewhat of an enigma and his life certainly would take any number of strange twists and turns along the way.

I found "Stealing Lincoln's Body" to be an extremely engrossing read.  I also would be remiss if I failed to mention the 20 pages of photographs included here that really seemed to bring these events to life for me.  Thomas Craughwell has done a fine job of bringing to light an important piece of American history.  In addition, the History Channel has produced a fascinating one hour program about this subject.  Look for it if you are at all interested.     Recommended reading.
Lincoln Monument

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September 29, 2009
It's a great read! Before seeing the History Channel special had you ever heard of this incident. I do a ton of reading and never heard of it.
September 29, 2009
I saw a special on the History Channel about this. It was pretty interesting to watch! I'll have to read up more about all the counterfeit money at the time. Sounds like a good read!
About the reviewer
Paul Tognetti ()
Ranked #2
I guess I would qualify as a frustrated writer. My work requires very little writing and so since 1999 I have been writing reviews on non-fiction books and anthology CD's on amazon.com. I never could … more
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About this book



On the night of the presidential election in 1876, a gang of counterfeiters out of Chicago attempted to steal the entombed embalmed body of Abraham Lincoln and hold it for ransom. The custodian of the tomb was so shaken by the incident that he willingly dedicated the rest of his life to protecting the president's corpse.

In a lively and dramatic narrative, Thomas J. Craughwell returns to this bizarre, and largely forgotten, event with the first book to place the grave robbery in historical context. He takes us through the planning and execution of the crime and the outcome of the investigation. He describes the reactions of Mary Todd Lincoln and Robert Todd Lincoln to the theft—and the peculiar silence of a nation. He follows the unlikely tale of what happened to Lincoln's remains after the attempted robbery, and details the plan devised by the Lincoln Guard of Honor to prevent a similar abominable recurrence.

Along the way, Craughwell offers entertaining sidelights on the rise of counterfeiting in America and the establishment of the Secret Service to combat it; the prevalence of grave robberies; the art of nineteenth-century embalming; and the emergence among Irish immigrants of an ambitious middle class—and a criminal underclass.

This rousing story of hapless con men, intrepid federal agents, and ordinary Springfield citizens who honored their native son by keeping a valuable, burdensome secret for decades offers a riveting glimpse into late-nineteenth-century ...

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ISBN-10: 0674030397
ISBN-13: 978-0674030398
Author: Thomas J. Craughwell
Genre: History
Publisher: Belknap Press
Date Published: October 15, 2008
Format: Hardcover
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