Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Book Review--Stealing Lincoln's Body

Craughwell, Thomas J., Stealing Lincoln's Body. The Belknap Press of Harvard University Press, Cambridge. 2007. 250 pages. 210 pages of text. Notes, bibliography, index, b/w photos.

As if the tragedy of the Civil War during his life and then his assassination weren't enough the body of Abraham Lincoln had to deal with even further indignities once buried. A little known aspect of President Abraham Lincoln's life and death was the attempt to steal his corpse and hold it for ransom. The plot was doomed from the beginning due to the ineptitude of the perpetrators. Yet more criminals who just can't keep their mouth shut.

Author Thomas J. Craughwell has documented this sad story in his wonderful book Stealing Lincoln's Body published by Belknap Press. The book is 250 pages with index, bibliography, notes, and b/w photos. I found myself referring to the notes on many ocassions just to see where the material had come from. Craughwell uses a mix of primary and secondary sources. The book is well referenced and overall easy to read despite being from a scholarly press.

Before the positives there are areas where Craughwell gets a bit long-winded. We get to learn about counterfeiters, George Pullman and his employee relations, the Irish in Chicago, and the formation of the Secret Service. Craughwell ties these in but for some readers they might make the journey longer than expected.

After Lincoln's death a strange series of events takes place. From the long funeral trip across the country to Mary Lincoln's fight to have her husband buried where she wanted to the attempted theft of his body by counterfeiters to the formation of the Lincoln Guard of Honor to being buried in a shallow grave in the basement of his monument to the final viewing of his face to the final burial under thousands of pounds of concrete. Craughwell covers it in great detail and has written what might ultimately become a standard work on this subject.

Don't have time to read this book you say? Not to worry the History Channel has produced an excellent documentary based upon this book. It is currently in rotation on the channel and will be available for purchase in May. This is well worth catching and you will then no doubt be hooked.

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