Stealing Lincoln's Body

Thomas J. Craughwell, Author . Harvard/ Belknap $24.95 (250p) ISBN 978-0-674-02458-8

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.)

Reviewed on: 02/19/2007
Release date: 04/01/2007
Ebook - 287 pages - 978-0-674-02997-2
Paperback - 250 pages - 978-0-674-03039-8
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