Stealing Lincoln's Body

Stealing Lincoln's Body

3.6 18
by Thomas J. Craughwell
     
 

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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,

Overview

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 America, and underscores that truth really is sometimes stranger than fiction.

Editorial Reviews

American Spectator

Thomas J. Craughwell has given us a richly detailed, highly entertaining, and broad slice of our history.
— John Corry

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

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

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

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

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

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.
Chicago Tribune

There is no end of fascinating context and detail in this engrossing, often zany, yet poignant tale.
— Michael Kammen

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

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

The Age

This is a terrific read.
— Owen Richardson

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

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.
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.
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.
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.
Booklist - Gilbert Taylor
Propelled by its true-crime format, Craughwell's history of Lincoln's several reburials and their strange-but-true details is irresistible.
American Spectator - John Corry
Thomas J. Craughwell has given us a richly detailed, highly entertaining, and broad slice of our history.
Sunday Telegraph - Philip Hoare
Stealing Lincoln's Body is worth reading for its account of the president's funeral cortege alone...[A] quirky, diverting book.
Washington Post Book World - Harold Holzer
[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.
New York Post - Eric Fettmann
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.
Irish Times - John McBratney
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.
The Times - Thomas Lynch
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.
Washington Times - James Srodes
A fascinating [tale] that is well told.
Times Higher Education Supplement - A. W. Purdue
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.
Chicago Tribune - Michael Kammen
There is no end of fascinating context and detail in this engrossing, often zany, yet poignant tale.
Juneauempire.com - Kathy Ward
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.
The Age - Owen Richardson
This is a terrific read.
Times Higher Education - Richard Hand
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."
The Times

The plot that gives Stealing Lincoln's Body its title, hatched by a crew of hapless Irish publicans and counterfeiters in Cicago, 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

Product Details

ISBN-13:
9780674030398
Publisher:
Harvard
Publication date:
10/15/2008
Pages:
288
Sales rank:
847,939
Product dimensions:
5.50(w) x 8.20(h) x 0.50(d)

What People are saying about this

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.
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

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.