Stealing Lincoln's Body

Stealing Lincoln's Body

3.6 18
by Thomas J. CRAUGHWELL
     
 

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On the night of the 1876 presidential election, a gang of counterfeiters attempted to steal the entombed embalmed body of Abraham Lincoln and hold it for ransom. Craughwell returns to this bizarre, and largely forgotten, event with the first book to place the grave robbery in historical context. This rousing story of hapless con men, intrepid federal agents, and

Overview

On the night of the 1876 presidential election, a gang of counterfeiters attempted to steal the entombed embalmed body of Abraham Lincoln and hold it for ransom. Craughwell returns to this bizarre, and largely forgotten, event with the first book to place the grave robbery in historical context. This rousing story of hapless con men, intrepid federal agents, and ordinary Springfield citizens offers an unusual glimpse into late-nineteenth-century America.

Editorial Reviews

Harold Holzer
Summoning the raw spirit of crime novels and horror stories, as well as the forensic detail of a coroner's inquest, Thomas J. Craughwell has turned the eerie final chapter of the Lincoln story into a guilty pleasure.
— The Wasnington Post
Publishers Weekly
Craughwell (Saints Behaving Badly) provides an intriguing glimpse at a macabre but interesting footnote to the story of Abraham Lincoln: the tale of how, on election night of 1876, several Chicago counterfeiters attempted to abduct and hold for ransom the 16th president's corpse. As Craughwell demonstrates, authorities received advance warning, and Lincoln's bones never, in the end, left his Springfield, Ill., tomb-even though the would-be abductors did succeed in wresting the casket from its sarcophagus. In telling this story, Craughwell also provides something of a biography of Lincoln's cadaver, chronicling its long voyage to final rest. After the 1876 attempt, the "sacred remains" spent 11 years half-buried in a subbasement of the tomb, covered with boards, as a security measure, while thousands of pious citizens paid their respects to the empty sarcophagus above. Then, from 1887 through 1889, the dead president's body lingered in a specially constructed catacomb immediately beneath the sarcophagus room (again, secretly). Not until 1901-after several prominent Springfieldians opened the casket and verified the identity of its occupant-was Lincoln's corpse permanently installed within his monument beneath several feet of poured cement, never again to be disturbed. Craughwell offers an entertaining account of one of the stranger incidents in American history. (Apr.) Copyright 2007 Reed Business Information.
Library Journal

Craughwell (Saints Behaving Badly: The Cutthroats, Crooks, Trollops, Con Men, and Devil-Worshippers Who Became Saints) investigates the 1876 attempt to steal Abraham Lincoln's body from Oak Ridge Cemetery in Springfield, IL. On the night of the presidential election, three men with criminal records as counterfeiters sought to break into the Lincoln Monument. The plan was to then hold the body for ransom, but Secret Service detective Patrick Tyrrell had been tipped off and thwarted the plot, catching the criminals in the act with the help of Lincoln Monument custodian John Carroll Power. The event was overshadowed at the time by national headlines about the voting scandal associated with the Hayes-Tilden presidential election. Nonetheless, for security purposes, Lincoln's remains were removed from his sarcophagus and buried in the monument's subbasement in an unmarked grave. When Mary Todd Lincoln died in 1882, she joined her husband there, but after the monument underwent major renovations, both were reburied in the monument's crypts in 1901 by members of the Lincoln Guard of Honor. The author uses a vast array of primary and secondary sources to trace the history of the Secret Service, embalming, counterfeiting, and grave-robbing statutes. Academic libraries will welcome this addition into their collections as a good companion to Merrill Peterson's Lincoln in American Memoryand William C. Harris's Lincoln's Last Months.
—Gayla Koerting

Chicago Tribune
There is no end of fascinating context and detail in this engrossing, often zany, yet poignant tale.
— Michael Kammen
Booklist
Propelled by its true-crime format, Craughwell's history of Lincoln's several reburials and their strange-but-true details is irresistible.
— Gilbert Taylor
The Times
The plot that gives Stealing Lincoln's Body its title, hatched by a crew of hapless Irish publicans and counterfeiters in Chicago, unfolds with equal doses of Martin Scorsese and the Three Stooges, the fecklessness of the robbers nearly trumped by that of the cops, on election night 1876, more than a decade after the President's assassination...It is a marvelous look into Gilded Age America and the wellsprings of many of our modern vexations. Immigrant and urban culture, robber barons and financial hoodlums, the bread-and-circuses numbing of the electorate, political scandal and presidential intrigues, the war between the ridiculous and the sublime that seems to infect our nations are all subtexts to this readable book.
— Thomas Lynch
Times Higher Education
By turns macabre and gruesome, dumbfounding and farcical, the extraordinary true story of the Chicago gang who attempted to kidnap Lincoln's corpse is a fascinating episode in 19th-century crime. Craughwell constructs a sweeping picture of the characters from every walk of life who were embroiled in this bizarre "horrible history."
— Richard Hand
Sunday Telegraph
Stealing Lincoln's Body is worth reading for its account of the president's funeral cortege alone...[A] quirky, diverting book.
— Philip Hoare
Irish Times
Stealing Lincoln's Body tracks an unlikely series of events, reminiscent of a silent, black-and-white, cops-and-robbers movie, with passion and erudition.
— John McBratney
Washington Times
A fascinating [tale] that is well told.
— James Srodes
New York Post
Thomas J. Craughwell has rescued this bizarre episode from the dustbin of history...It does more than simply retell a forgotten story; it sheds new light on the incident, thanks to the long-neglected original handwritten reports of Patrick Tyrrell, the Secret Service agent who handled the case...Thomas Craughwell tells the story in a work that is sometimes morbid and creepy, but never less than fascinating.
— Eric Fettmann
Washington Post Book World
[A] spirited narrative...Craughwell brings off the entire enterprise by making readers feel, hear and smell the atmosphere of the fetid Chicago taverns where the crooks hatched their demonic plot--not to mention the creepy interior of the shoddy Lincoln tomb, crumbling all around the family corpses as an aging guard of honor struggles both to conceal Lincoln's body in the dank cellar and to rescue the cheaply made temple for posterity...Summoning the raw spirit of crime novels and horror stories, as well as the forensic detail of a coroner's inquest, Thomas J. Craughwell has turned the eerie final chapter of the Lincoln story into a guilty pleasure.
— Harold Holzer
American Spectator
Thomas J. Craughwell has given us a richly detailed, highly entertaining, and broad slice of our history.
— John Corry
Times Higher Education Supplement
Stealing Lincoln's Body is a fascinating thriller, and it provides a macabre footnote to American history, but the real strength lies in the way the context--the dynamic but turbulent society of America in the immediate aftermath of the Civil War--is so skillfully described.
— A. W. Purdue
The Age
This is a terrific read.
— Owen Richardson
Frontpage Online
Thomas Craughwell's Stealing Lincoln's Body abounds with information about the amazingly goof-ball plot and about such things as the transformation of the Secret Service into being the presidential body guard.
Juneauempire.com
Craughwell brings together counterfeiters, lawyers, corpse-stealers, Lincoln’s Guard of Honor, and Abraham Lincoln himself in this intriguing novel that brings to light a little-known historical incident.
— Kathy Ward

Product Details

ISBN-13:
9780674029972
Publisher:
Harvard University Press
Publication date:
06/30/2009
Sold by:
Barnes & Noble
Format:
NOOK Book
Pages:
288
Sales rank:
480,847
File size:
426 KB

What People are saying about this

Edward Steers
While the field of Lincoln studies appears to have been exhaustively mined, Thomas Craughwell has found a gold nugget in the bizarre story of Stealing Lincoln's Body. In a well-researched and beautifully written book, he takes readers through the intriguing Irish underworld of counterfeiting that led to the plot to hold Lincoln's body for ransom.

Edward Steers, Jr., author of Blood on the Moon: The Assassination of Abraham Lincoln

Thomas Craughwell offers the first full-length account of the aborted attempt to steal the body of the nation's icon. Ian Fleming could not have done better than this fast-paced, well-written thriller. The story demonstrates yet again how good intelligence and police work can be so effective in preventing a national catastrophe.
Frank J. Williams
Thomas Craughwell offers the first full-length account of the aborted attempt to steal the body of the nation's icon. Ian Fleming could not have done better than this fast-paced, well-written thriller. The story demonstrates yet again how good intelligence and police work can be so effective in preventing a national catastrophe.

Frank J. Williams, Chief Justice, Rhode Island Supreme Court, and chairman of The Lincoln Forum

R. Emmett Tyrrell
With charm and authority, Thomas Craughwell offers an illuminating portrait of nineteenth-century America as he writes of the origins of the Secret Service, counterfeiting in America, the rambunctious growth of Chicago, and the assassination of the beloved president. At the heart of this book is the attempt to steal Old Abe's bones, a surprising story of ludicrous crooks, determined government agents, and loyal guardians devoted to the memory of their native son.
R. Emmett Tyrrell, Jr., founder and editor-in-chief, American Spectator
Wayne C. Temple
Thomas Craughwell has written a definitive and fascinating book about the hapless gang of counterfeiters who attempted to snatch Lincoln's body and hold it for ransom. This is history writing at its best.
Wayne C. Temple, author of Abraham Lincoln: From Skeptic to Prophet

Meet the Author

Thomas J. Craughwell is the author of several books on Catholic history and American popular culture, including Saints Behaving Badly, The Wisdom of the Popes, and Urban Legends.

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Stealing Lincoln's Body 3.7 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 17 reviews.
cd49 More than 1 year ago
missed the mark somewhat. gets bogged down - sidetracked in the trial with names and other uninteresting information. granted- there's only so much you can write about this one footnote in history- but for me- the book didn't really start to get interesting until the end.
PresidentGSP More than 1 year ago
Trust me; this book is just a huge disappointment. The author takes 30 pages to lecture the reader about the history of counterfeiting, and the actual account of stealing Lincoln¿s body takes up about five pages. This would be a great short story, but the author drags it out as much as possible and continually diverts from the story to go on a tangent about some mundane detail. To be fair, the end of the book is quite good and goes into fantastic detail about what actually happened to the body of Lincoln. The end of the book was very enjoyable, but I cannot help but think back to all of the absurd information about Irish immigration and printing presses. Throughout most of the book you will notice that there is one thing missing- Lincoln.
Guest More than 1 year ago
Last week I had the pleasure of reading this book on an airplane for a recent business trip. As boring and uncomfortable flying is this book was made the trip very easy. The writing was excellent and the tale engaging. The story starts with highlights of President Lincoln's assassination leading thru the choice of his final resting place. The story then provides a historical explanation of counterfeiting in the United States, leading directly to grave robbing conspiracy. While reading thru this story I kept picturing Clive Owen as Patrick Tyrell, the Irish Secret Service Agent
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
writing is great but there is not too much to the story. If you want the basics there is a documentary by the author that is very well done
historyteach19 More than 1 year ago
Some of the reviews complained about the book having information not needed, however, I would disagree and if you read the book you will see. The information talked about in the beginning of the book helps set up why people would try and steal the body of a former president and how the plot was stopped. Craughwell did a superb job historically telling the story. I am now enjoy the book on the Irish Brigade, titled 'The Greatest Brigade' by Craughwell.
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Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Books revolving around historical footnotes can often be as engrossing as those covering major events; this work by Thomas Craughwell is such an example. The botched attempt at stealing Abraham Lincoln's remains in 1876 provides an opportunity to learn about early embalming, rampant counterfeiting in the 1800's, attitudes towards Irish immigrants, the start of the Secret Service, and the enigmatic Robert Lincoln, the President's only surviving son. One of the more interesting bits of trivia that Craughwell uncovers is that the last surviving person to see the late President's face was Fleetwood Lindley, who viewed the remains as a teenager during a move of the body in 1901; he lived until 1963. Recommended for Lincoln history buffs.
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Anonymous More than 1 year ago
This was a interesting piece of history. If you want a glimpse into the beginning of the US Secret Service you will enjoy it. One thing for sue, you understand that the corruption in Illinois politics then is as bad as it is now.
an_avidreader More than 1 year ago
I am always on the lookout for the little-known facts in our nation's history and this book does not disappoint. Craughwell has done his homework with this book and the reader is intrigued from the first page. Even if readers have not read the book yet, they will agree that this should be a "must read" because The History Channel is doing a special based on this story.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
This book looked to be a great read about Lincoln trivia. It was an ok read but left this reader wanting more.
Guest More than 1 year ago
This was the first book that I'd ever read on Abraham Lincoln and it was outstanding. I had a hard time putting it down. I'd recommend it to anyone that loves the history that you never hear about.