Seven score and two years ago at 7:22 a.m. April 15, Abraham Lincoln died. After extensive ceremonies and public viewings, from Baltimore through New...

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“Stealing Lincoln’s Body”

by Thomas J. Craughwell

Harvard University Press,

250 pp., $24.95

Seven score and two years ago at 7:22 a.m. April 15, Abraham Lincoln died. After extensive ceremonies and public viewings, from Baltimore through New York to Chicago, he was buried on May 4, 1865, at Oak Ridge Cemetery in Springfield, Ill. His elaborate marble tomb became a tourist destination where visitors paid respectful tribute to one of America’s greatest presidents.

And then on Nov. 7, 1876 — election night — a gang of counterfeiters tried to steal Lincoln’s embalmed body. Their plan was to hold it for ransom and force the release of Benjamin Boyd, a notorious engraver, but agents of the fledgling Secret Service had infiltrated the gang and thwarted their plans. The attempted body snatching so disturbed the cemetery’s custodian that he removed Lincoln’s coffin and buried it in the dirt under the tomb. Joined six years later by his wife’s coffin, Lincoln’s lay in the dirt until April 14, 1887, when the two were finally reburied in a new, concrete-fortified vault.

But Lincoln’s body would not remain undisturbed, and in 1901 his coffin was moved again. It was also reopened. According to witnesses, one of whom didn’t die until 1963, Lincoln was perfectly preserved. Finally, on Sept. 26, 1901, workers sealed Abraham Lincoln’s coffin in a steel cage and 10 feet of concrete. No one has moved it since.

In “Stealing Lincoln’s Body,” Thomas J. Craughwell, author of “Saints Behaving Badly,” vividly tells the story of Lincoln’s post-death movements. Along the way we learn about counterfeiting, embalming and the birth of the Secret Service. Unfortunately, we learn too much about some of these subjects; for example, he spends 46 pages on counterfeiting before he finally ties the story back to Lincoln.

Despite its need for some editing, “Stealing Lincoln’s Body” is a fascinating account of how even in death, Abraham Lincoln’s story was larger than life.