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Stealing Lincoln's Body Hardcover – May 15, 2007

4 out of 5 stars 69 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

Amazon.com Review

Amazon Significant Seven, April 2007: Thomas Craughwell exhumes a fascinating and bizarre Lincoln tale that you didn't hear in school: The plot hatched by a group of Chicago counterfeiters to steal Honest Abe's remains and ransom them for $200,000 and the release of an imprisoned cohort. Though ultimately unsuccessful, the brazen scheme launched The First Cadaver on a peripatetic 25-year journey to its final, concrete-encased resting place. Along the way, Stealing Lincoln's Body detours into the story of rampant counterfeiting prior to and through the Civil War that nearly bankrupted the U.S. treasury, the scoundrelly origins of the Secret Service, and some of the stranger embalming techniques of 19th-century America. --Jon Foro

From 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.)
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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 288 pages
  • Publisher: Belknap Press; annotated edition edition (April 15, 2007)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0674024583
  • ISBN-13: 978-0674024588
  • Product Dimensions: 5.8 x 1 x 8.4 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 7.2 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (69 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,165,415 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

After four years in a doctoral program studying medieval English literature, three years as a copywriter for Book-of-the-Month Club, and one year as a marketing director for a pricey, upscale travel company, I went into business for myself as a full-time writer in 1992. (Yeah. I can't believe the business has stayed afloat this long either).
As a writer, I really don't specialize; my resume is all over the map. I developed the concept and wrote the script for History Book Club's first television commercial. I've written direct mail for Time-Life Books, TV Guide, The Reader's Digest, Hilton Hotels, and the American Banking Association. I wrote the original Barnes & Noble web site; a series of online e-learning business, finance, and banking courses for the New York Institute of Finance; and a special "History of the Paperback" web site to celebrate Quality Paperback Book Club's 25th anniversary. My 50 States Fandex cards (Workman Publishing, 1998) have sold 700,000 copies (!). And I've published articles in a variety of newspapers and magazines--from The Wall Street Journal to Emmy magazine to the national Catholic news weekly Our Sunday Visitor.
My first book, Every Eye Beholds You: A World Treasury of Prayer (Harcourt Brace, 1999), was a Main Selection of both Book-of-the-Month Club and Quality Paperback Book Club. My book on patron saints, Saints for Every Occasion (Stampley Enterprises, 2001) has been translated into Spanish, Italian, and Polish.
I'm not a professional talking head, but I've been invited to discuss saints, the canonization process, and Catholic history on CNN, EWTN, Ave Maria Radio; and urban legends on the BBC, The Discovery Channel, Inside Edition, and approximately 75 radio stations.

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Hardcover
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.
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Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
A nice slice of Abraham Lincoln's story not covered by most of the vast number of books devoted to the great president. What became of Mr. Lincoln's body after April 15, 1865 is the domain of this interesting book. Along the way, a reader picks up arresting bits of information on such subjects as counterfeiting money, the U.S. Secret Service, and embalming the dead.

I recall from when I was young my reading a Life magazine article (1963) on the last man alive who saw Abraham Lincoln's face. It struck me then as highly interesting, and I am glad to have now read Mr. Craughwell's book--the tale remains odd, slightly macabre, but a significant one for those who enjoy American history.

(I rate as excellent the book's clean but evocative jacket as designed by Annamarie Why.)
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Format: Hardcover
This is a fascinating story, and in the process of telling it the author explores lots of interesting stuff about the politics, sociology, and lifestyles of people of the periods discussed. The GOOD part is, lots of that is very, very interesting and unexpectedly amusing. The BAD part is, he shares EVERY detail with a kind of obsessive dot-every-eye-cross-every-tee density of facts that sometimes gets in the way of the narrative and makes this a slower, denser read than it could have been. But in a story that begins with Lincoln's last breath and ends with the death in modern times of the last person to see his face when he was re-buried for the last time after decades of turmoil in between, you kind of expect to be pummelled with detail a bit...and some of the side-trips, notably the telling of the story of the Pullman railroad coach company and its founder and the famous strike (told because Lincoln's son was Pullman's lawyer) are interesting, too. SO....if you can plod through some of the dense jungle of facts, you'll find this book intriguing and enlightening and very, very interesting...but a light summer read it is not.
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Format: Hardcover
American history is literally packed with oddball characters and bizarre storylines so strange that no one would ever believe them -- if it weren't for the documentary proof. "Stealing Lincoln's Body" is another excellent example of this genre we might call "Stranger than Fictionistory."

If you enjoyed books like "The Devil in the White City" and "The Shakespeare Riots," you won't want to miss this little gem. On one level, it's about a gang of criminal misfits who tried to steal Abraham Lincoln's body from his tomb in Springfield, Illinois, in order to set free an imprisoned comrade.

On a higher level, it's about the vast criminal underworld that circulated around America during the mid- to late-19th century. We're talking counterfeiters, murderers, con men, thieves, roughnecks, prostitutes and grave robbers. In some areas, like the immigrant neighborhoods of west Chicago, the boundary line between "respectable citizen" and conniving rogue was often non-existent. Tavern owners frequently collaborated with felons when they weren't collaborating with the cops or corrupt local politicians. You've heard of "The Wild West." This book could be subtitled "The Wild Midwest."

Along the way, we learn fascinating details about 19th century burial practices, the birth of the Secret Service and rapid advances in counterfeiting technology, not to mention the grizzly details of grave robbing for profit. If you have the patience to get through Craughwell's long "set up" (about 90 pages), the payoff is definitely worth it as the story progresses from the marbled halls of Washington to the dank hovels of working-class life in 1870s Illinois.

No, Craughwell isn't the greatest popular historian on Earth and he does sometimes stumble, but for the most part this is one incredibly fun read and it certainly would make a fantastic movie. I nominate Jack Nicholson for the lead role. Enjoy!
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