Stealing Abraham Lincoln - Odd Truths
Strange But True Stories About Lincoln

Stealing Abraham Lincoln

It is a well-known fact that John Wilkes Booth shot Abraham Lincoln in the head in Ford’s Theater during the production of ‘Our American Cousin’.

If you think that the Lincoln story ends there however you’re wrong. 

This is a story of attempted theft of the late president’s body and a secret society that stepped in to make sure that it never happened again.

The Funeral

The day after the assassination Lincoln’s body was taken to the White House under an honor guard.  They placed the body in the East Room of the White House and opened it to the public a few days later.

A funeral service was held and then the body was transported via parade down Pennsylvania Avenue. Then to the Capitol Building where Lincoln’s body lay in state, in the Capitol Rotunda.  On the following morning, the 21st of April 1865 a prayer service was held.

Lincoln’s funeral train

The Train Journey

On the 22nd of April Lincoln’s body was placed on his funeral train on the long way back to Illinois.  The train locomotive never exceeded a speed of 20 miles an hour and stopped in every major city along the way. Each stop attracted thousands of Lincoln admirers who flocked to the train to pay their final respects to Abraham Lincoln.

Also on the train was the body of Lincoln’s son Willie who died a few years earlier. This was so that father and son could be taken to Springfield Illinois and be interned together.

Lincoln’s tomb as depicted in Harper’s Weekly

The Tomb

When Lincoln’s body arrived in Springfield there was some debate over where to place the body.  The City of Springfield chose one location but Lincoln’s Widow chose another. 

The first location was known as The Mather Vault,  and would later become the site of the Illinois Capitol building.  Mary Lincoln’s choice was the Oak Ridge Cemetery.

The Secret Service

The document that established the Secret Service was actually sitting on Abraham Lincoln’s desk the night he was shot.  At this time the main function of the Secret Service, however, was to go after counterfeiters.

The Secret Service is, after all, a part of the Treasury Department.

Captain Patrick D. Tyrrell of this newly formed secret service was on the hunt for a counterfeiter names Benjamin Boyd. Boyd was an engraver who had great skill in counterfeiting American money. 

After a Manhunt over 8 months and five states, Tyrrell and his agents finally captured Boyd and his wife. They were caught in the town of Fulton Illinois October 21st, 1875.

The plan to steal the body

Boyd worked for a man named James “Big Jim” Kennally. He was losing a lot of money having his engraver, Boyd locked up.

Big Jim came up with the idea that if they stole Abraham Lincoln’s body they could hide it. Then they could exchange the information of it’s hiding place for the release and pardon of Benjamin Boyd.

Foiled from the start!

Unfortunately for Boyd some of the men that he arranged to take place in the theft were informants paid by Terrell. 

When Tyrell learned of the plot he communicated with the head of the Secret Service. This was not a treasury matter since at the time the Secret Service was only involved in stopping counterfeiting. 

The perpetrators of the planned crime were also involved in money laundering. They were also well-known counterfeiters. He used this argument to convince his boss that the Secret Service should pursue the case.

Catching them in the act!

Tyrell met with Robert Todd Lincoln Abraham’s Lincoln sole surviving child.  He told him about the crime and asked him for permission to let the thieves go ahead with the attempt. They would lie in wait so they could catch them in the act.  Robert was very hesitant at first but eventually gave his consent for Tyrell to continue.

Mullen and Hughes

The grave robbers hired by Big Jim were named  Mullen and Hughes. They took the overnight train from Chicago to Springfield.  Tyrell and his agents, assisted by some Pinkerton Detectives were quick on their heels. 

The Secret Service agents met with John Carroll Power the custodian of Lincoln’s tomb. He who agreed to help them out in the stakeout. 

 On November 7th, 1875, Tyrell, Power, and the Secret Service agents waited inside the hallway of the crypt for the robbers to arrive. 

When the robbers turned up, the agents moved in. One of the Pinkertons however accidentally shot off his gun causing the robbers to flee. Mullen and Hughes were arrested in Chicago several days later.

A secret organization

Worried that this might happen again John Power and some of his associates formed the Lincoln Guard of Honor to look after the body of Lincoln. 

Only its members and Robert Todd Lincoln knew of this organization. However even Robert did not know the location of his father’s body.

In 1882 Mary Todd Lincoln died.  Roberts instructed the guard of honor to place his mother’s coffin in the same secret place they kept his father.

The new Tomb

 The bodies of Lincoln and his wife remained in the basement of the Tomb until 1887. At that time it was planned to build a brick vault to which the coffin would be placed. 

The Tomb was in need of repair very often. So in 1900, a reconstruction of Lincoln’s tomb was started. 

The new tomb was completed on the 2 of April 25th, 1901.

Robert was not altogether happy with the arrangements. It was decided it was necessary to build a permanent Crypt of a steel cage 10 ft deep and encased in concrete in the floor.

On September 26th, 1901 Lincoln’s body was taken out of the vault so that it could place then in the newly-built Crypt. 

A final look

   However, it was feared by Robert and the others that the body may have been stolen in the years since they last checked. So once again the coffin of Abraham Lincoln was opened.

The casket was opened and a tremendous stench filled the air.  Lincoln was said to look perfectly like himself even 30 years after his death. 

His clothing was covered with a yellow mold and his gloves had rotted from his hands. On his chest, there were some bits of red fabric leftover from the American flag with which he was buried. 

The last living person to see Lincoln

One of the last living persons to see the body of Abraham Lincoln was a youth of fourteen named Fleetwood Lindley.

Lindley lived until the 1st of February 1963. 3 days before he died he was interviewed and confirmed that he had seen the former president’s body.

Lincoln in state

The 1931 tomb

In 1931 a second reconstruction of the tomb was overtaken.  the entrance of the tomb was redone to allow visitors. The white marble sarcophagus was replaced with the red granite marker. You can see it to this day in front of the place where Lincoln’s body is encased in the Tomb.

The tomb was rededicated with President Herbert Hoover in attendance on the 17th of June 1931.

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