Stealing Lincoln’s Body (Paperback)
  • Stealing Lincoln’s Body (Paperback)
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Stealing Lincoln’s Body (Paperback)

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£20.95
Paperback 288 Pages
Published: 01/10/2008
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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, 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.

Publisher: Harvard University Press
ISBN: 9780674030398
Number of pages: 288
Dimensions: 210 x 140 mm


MEDIA REVIEWS

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

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

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, Chief Justice, Rhode Island Supreme Court, and chairman of The Lincoln Forum

Propelled by its true-crime format, Craughwell's history of Lincoln's several reburials and their strange-but-true details is irresistible. - Gilbert Taylor, Booklist

Craughwell 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...In telling this story, Craughwell also provides something of a biography of Lincoln's cadaver, chronicling its long voyage to final rest...Craughwell offers an entertaining account of one of the stranger incidents in American history. - Publishers Weekly

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

Stealing Lincoln's Body is worth reading for its account of the president's funeral cortege alone...[A] quirky, diverting book. - Philip Hoare, Sunday Telegraph

[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, Washington Post Book World

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, New York Post

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, Irish 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 Times

A fascinating [tale] that is well told. - James Srodes, Washington Times

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, Times Higher Education Supplement

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. - Frontpage Online

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

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, Juneauempire.com

This is a terrific read. - Owen Richardson, The Age

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, Times Higher Education

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