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Stealing Lincoln's Body Paperback – September 22, 2008

4.0 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

--This text refers to the Hardcover edition.

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.)
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved. --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 288 pages
  • Publisher: Belknap Press (October 15, 2008)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0674030397
  • ISBN-13: 978-0674030398
  • Product Dimensions: 0.8 x 5.2 x 8.2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 0.8 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: #985,616 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By Paul Tognetti TOP 500 REVIEWER on July 15, 2007
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: Paperback
I picked up this book recently on a sale and thought I would give it a shot without reading any reviews first. I will say that the book was interesting and worth my time (only about a 210 page read) but this book really, in my opinion, suffers from a lack of focus on the subject at hand. Mainly earlier on in the book.

The book starts by detailing the events immediately after Lincoln's shooting at Ford's Theatre, including the hours afterwards, the funeral preparations and the funeral itself.

After that point, the book delves into a very lengthy history of currency counterfeiting in the United States and the Irish element in the city of Chicago. Although interesting reading in itself, it took probably some 40-50 pages (nearly a quarter of the book) to go through all of this and was little aid in understanding the main concept of the book. In other words, all of this could have been left out and the author could still have made his points. Without going into farther details, the author had a habit of also going off into tangents explaining events that had nothing to do with the theme of the book.

In the end, I estimate that about a third of the book, give or take, is spent discussing topics that really are of little or no relevance to the attempts made to steal Lincoln's body, and the attempts made by the custodians of Lincoln's grave to protect the site from grave robbers and vandals.

Don't get me wrong, I didn't get bored reading "Stealing Lincoln's Body" - it was just a disjointed and unfocused book that that had sections that in all honesty could just be skipped. It's probably worth a read, but I would guess that there are better books on the subject.
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