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Stealing Lincoln's Body Hardcover – May 15, 2007
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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. Recommended!
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.)
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!