Lincoln 1860

Lincoln 1860

Saturday, January 5, 2008

The Plot To Steal Abraham Lincoln's Body

Even in death, Abraham Lincoln could find no safe haven from the plots which plagued him during his life. Body stealing was a fairly common occurrence in earlier times, with the stolen bodies either used for ransom money from the deceased's family or even being sold to unscrupulous medical schools. But the plot to steal Lincoln was organized by counterfeiters, of all things.

Seems as if this gang of counterfeiters had a compatriot in prison, one Ben Boyd, who was a master counterfeiter. So "Big Jim" Kenally, the leader of the gang, cooked up the plot to steal Lincoln's body and demand both $200,000 and the release of Mr. Boyd.

Thanks to some fine detective work by the fairly new Secret Service, the plotters were thwarted in the act. (It should be remembered that even today, the primary purpose of the Secret Service is to deter counterfeiters from polluting the U.S. money supply with bogus money. )

The thieves actually escaped the law for a time, but were finally captured on November 16, 1876. Unfortunately, there were no state laws against grave robbing at that time in Illinois, so the robbers were charged only with trying to steal the coffin itself. They were sentenced to one year in prison.

The photo I've included is a historical marker in Illinois on the spot of the gang's headquarters.

I had known about this plot thanks to other sources I'd read, primarily Candace Fleming's fine article in the Lincoln 140th Assassination Anniversary issue of American History magazine published in 2005. In that article, Fleming detailed not only this plot but the other struggles on how to properly bury Lincoln in his (finally) final resting place in 1901. It's a fascinating story.


Anonymous said...

Be sure to watch the History Channel February 16th for a special on this. Looks pretty intriguing. I think they are trying to frame it as someone actually did steal the body (perhaps it's just a way to get more viewers). Great blog by the way!


Anonymous said...
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