On the night of the presidential election in , 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 corpseIn 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 theftand the peculiar silence of the 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 occurrenceAlong 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 nineteenthcentury embalming; and the emergence among Irish immigrants of an ambitious middle classand a criminal underclassThis 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 nineteenthcentury America and underscores that truth really is sometimes stranger than fiction


10 thoughts on “Stealing Lincoln's Body

  1. Eric Knudsen Eric Knudsen says:

    This is a good book. Not a great book, but a good one. The main problem is that Mr Craughwell touches on so many subjects connected to the attempted tomb robbery that are worthy of whole books of their own. Lincoln's funeral, the Republican's theft of the 1876 presidential election, the rise of American Nativism, the Pullman strike,...the list goes on and on. Still, I enjoyed it, and it inspired me to read more on the subjects above. There is also a wonderfully creepy spirt picture of Abe and Mary Todd Lincoln in the illustrations section. Check it out.


  2. Christina Christina says:

    Who knew that some bumbling counterfeiters would try to get their engraver out of prison by holding Abraham Lincoln's body for ransom? Or that as a result Lincoln was reburied multiple times before finally ending up inside a lead box inside a wood crate inside a steel cage completely covered in concrete? If they'd only mention the interesting stuff in history class!


  3. Damon Lively Damon Lively says:

    This was a challenging book to rate. Mainly due to story as a whole. The story of the attempt to steal Lincoln’s body is very simplistic and short as a whole. The author therefore branches into other historical components – such as the history of counterfeiting in the U.S. – which is interesting to know. Probably the more compelling part of the story is the acts to protect Lincoln’s body, multiple interments, how his remains were “in a sense” mishandled for a period of years – leading up to the memorial as we presently know. That may be the more luring part of the story. The book is written in a fashion that is easy to read – sometimes it branches into people or topics that are dull (as you can sense the writer was grasping to make this a complete book that would be even readable). The author though – on a number of occasions – cites a lack of information, missing documents, among other things that do a disservice to anyone writing on this topic. So although it is an important – and at times – interesting topic – you realize trying to write a 210 page book just doesn’t work. Even some of the ancillary characters involved hold more interest than general story – e.g. Robert Lincoln, Powers – or even side stories such as the Pullman railroad strike. Because of this – I can only give it “okay” marks – although it’s an easy read and you can still find your way through it.


  4. Andrew Andrew says:

    After watching a documentary on the History Channel about how the body of Abraham Lincoln was almost stolen, I knew I had to read this book. One might think this was a work of fiction, but it is actually a narrative of true events. Craughwell takes Abraham Lincoln, a President who, at this point has been dead almost a half a century, and reignites his character. This time, however, Lincoln is sought after by body snatchers.

    Reading this book showed me that reading texts based on history can be fun, and certainly surprise the reader at times. As a writer, this instance of American history (unknown to most people), allows me to catch a reader's attention and show them that they might not know everything about American History. In writing about Women's Role in the Government, I attempted to reflect this type of narrative at points, showing the reader that they were going to learn something new, and not just dust off old ideas lost in the dust of time.


  5. Danielle Danielle says:

    The 1876 plot to steal Abraham Lincoln's body from its tomb in Springfield, Illinois is not one that many people know about. I didn't know much about it besides a brief summary in some books about haunted Illinois that I had read. Even the Abraham Presidential Museum has just a small note about it in a display case. So a whole book about the plot was a great idea for a book.

    Sadly, I was a bit disappointed in Stealing Lincoln's Body. The book is great when it's talking about the plot and Lincoln and I got into it when it was talking about that. But the book is too bogged down with facts and history that doesn't really relate to the story of the plot to steal Lincoln's body. First Mr. Craughwell goes into a long winded summary of the history of counterfeiting money. I guess it's related to the story since the people who tried to steal Lincoln's body were connected to the counterfeiting but I think just a page or two of a summary of the history of counterfeiting would have been sufficient for me.

    Then the author goes in the history of Irish in Chicago that goes on for far too long. Other than some of the players in the story being Irish, I have no clue why Thomas Craughwell felt it was necessary to include that part. It goes on for far too long and really drags the story to a glacial pace. Later on in the book, Mr. Craughwell slows the story down again with the history of George Pullman and the Pullman strike. Just because Robert Lincoln, Abraham Lincoln's son, was George Pullman's lawyer. The history of George Pullman doesn't have much to do with the story. Yes, Robert was his lawyer and Robert got the idea of burying Lincoln in steel cage and cement from Pullman but the history of George Pullman and how he led his business and employees have no relation to Lincoln's body. Robert and George's history with each other could have been summed up in a paragraph, not several pages.

    But when the book was actually focusing on Abraham Lincoln and what happened to his body after he died, it was quite good. It is kind of amazing how long it was before Abraham Lincoln could truly rest in peace. I really wish there had been more focus on that part of the story. It's kind of like Thomas Craughwell didn't know how to fill up a book with just the subject of the plot to steal Lincoln's body. Perhaps, instead of focusing on other subjects that really don't relate to body snatching plot, he could have talked about Lincoln's funeral and his journey back to Springfield. That way it's still on the subject of Lincoln and doesn't stray too far from what is supposed to be the subject of the book. I would say most people didn't buy this book for the history of counterfeiting, Irish in Chicago, or George Pullman. The History Channel just recently did a show based on this book and I think it handled the balance much better and kept the subject on track. I saw the show first and read the book second and while I love reading books about Lincoln, I think the History Channel show did a better job covering the subject and making it interesting.


  6. Stephen Stephen says:

    Such an odd, odd little story. Did I say odd?

    I first encountered the book “Stealing Lincoln’s Body” in the gift shop at Gettysburg on a vacation a couple of years ago. Such a curious story but running low on money, I didn’t buy it.

    This is the 200th anniversary of Lincoln’s birth and remembering the book, I found and bought a copy.

    “Stealing Lincoln’s Body” begins with his death on April 15, 1865 and follows the saga of his body. It seems he did not go home to Illinois to rest in peace. The R.I.P. took awhile. Our 16th president may have survived the turmoil of governing the Union during the Civil War but Mr. Lincoln’s ordeal wasn’t quite over. Honest Abe’s mortal remains did not find a secure, final resting place until 1901, 36 years after his assassination in Ford’s Theatre. Surprisingly, there was a period of 11 years when only the nine members of a secret society knew where Lincoln's body was hidden.

    This is a macabre little known story of American history. A story of hapless con men, crooks, counterfeiters and a small group of honest folks trying to do the right thing and protect the Lincoln family from any more torment.

    Hat's off to author Thomas J. Craughwell. Well researched and written. Fascinating, but did I say odd?


  7. Heather Stewart Heather Stewart says:

    For a history buff, this book may have A LOT of appeal for my it introduced way too many characters at the same time. I had a difficult time keeping track of who was bad, the mastermind, a helper, etc. I also felt it repeated inself a bit, just adding a bit more detail each time. This 2 factors made it difficult to continue to read. However, I LOVED the pictures and the last 2 chapters. It was new material, less characters, and very informative.

    The old saying goes the book is always better than the movie. This wasn't the case for me on this one. I felt the movie/documentary was very well done. Plus, it was structured in chronologically order that just made more sense than the book. It flowed better. The characters were introduced slower as well. Plus, the author Thomas Craughwell, has a great speaking voice as you can tell him and the other commentaries are very passionate about their work.

    I would recommend this to anyone who wants to learn about Lincoln...just not as a pleasure reading. If you have some background, so some of the names are familiar it may not be as difficult of a read as well. Watching the movie and THEN reading the book I feel would enhance the enjoyment as well.


  8. Michael Michael says:

    Overall I enjoyed Thomas Craughwell's Stealing Lincoln's Body. The description of the planning and execution of President Lincoln's funeral in the Prologue was highly engaging. The sections pertaining to nineteenth century funeral and cemetery customs was also quite interesting. However, chapters one and two regarding the history of counterfeiting and the Irish immigration to America in the nineteenth century proved to be rather dull. The chapters dealing with the trial and conviction of the would-be grave robbers was also uninteresting. Though I enjoyed the book, it seemed as though the author had difficulty getting to the point in several sections. Furthermore, the author included too many periphery details that were not needed in order to understand the central theme of the book. I do have to give credit to Mr. Craughwell for making me aware of Edward Steers, Jr.'s Blood On The Moon: The Assassination of Abraham Lincoln. The author cited Mr. Steers's book several times and I look forward to reading it.


  9. Meleya Meleya says:

    I enjoyed this book because it was extensively researched per all of the footnotes. I found the information regarding Mary and Abe's relationship to be fascinating. It is amazing how one person's grudge can turn into a fact throughout history. I always had the image that Mary and Abe didn't get along but it is nice to know this is a falsehood. Too bad Abe's son didn't think the letters were important, I'd certainly like to read some of those.

    A quick read, and an interesting topic. I'd never even heard this story but that is probably because I'm on the West Coast and not in the thick of Abraham Lincoln history. I see that many reviews state that one must be a fan of history to read this book. I'm not sure why else you would pick it up? I also found a lot of moments in the book that made me laugh out loud. It is funny how the minds of criminals work.


  10. Sarah Sarah says:

    Just a few years after his death, a couple of con men conspired to steal President Lincoln's body and hold it for ransom.

    I learned quite a bit from reading this book. It's short and presents a bit of history that I had never even heard of, which is amazing when you think about it. A couple of guys hatch a plan to grave rob one of the most beloved presidents, getting so far as to pull his coffin from its sarcophagus, and we never hear anything about it? Crazy! While I liked learning about this interesting bit of history, Craughwell took sort of a roundabout way to get there, providing information about things that ultimately were not exceedingly relevant to the main story. Overall, though, I was fascinated with learning about this long-neglected crime.