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The Men Who Tried to Steal Lincoln's Corpse

Our American Stories / Lee Habeeb
The Truth Network Radio
June 11, 2024 3:01 am

The Men Who Tried to Steal Lincoln's Corpse

Our American Stories / Lee Habeeb

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June 11, 2024 3:01 am

On this episode of Our American Stories, when most people die, the story is over—but not in Lincoln's case. Louis Picone tells the story of the plot to steal Lincoln's body and hold it for ransom in the sand dunes of Indiana.

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They're some of our favorites. When Abraham Lincoln was put into his opulent 117 foot tall tomb, he was laid to rest, but certainly not in peace. Here to tell the story of Abraham Lincoln's turbulent post-mortem experience is Louis Pecone, author of The President is Dead.

Take it away, Louis. Inside of the tomb, there is a sarcophagus and the coffin was placed inside of that sarcophagus. It's about a 500 pound coffin. The tomb is guarded by an iron fence with a lock and that's it. That lock and that iron gate was all that protected Abraham Lincoln. In 1876, there was an attempt to steal Abraham Lincoln's body. A small time gang in Illinois and Chicago was led by a guy named Big Jim Canale. And Canale had fallen on hard times when his ace counterfeiter, Benjamin Boyd, had been arrested in prison. So his gang was losing lots of money because they couldn't print their own. This was a time when counterfeiting was a huge problem. And actually, the Secret Service that was formed under Abraham Lincoln wasn't formed to protect the president. It was formed to combat counterfeiters.

It was such a massive problem. So Canale was on hard times and he was sitting in this rundown bar called The Hub in Chicago. Now, coincidentally, this was also a bar that Canale owned or co-owned. So he spent a lot of time here at The Hub and he came up with this idea to steal Abraham Lincoln's body. And he was going to steal the body, bring it to the sand dunes in Indiana, bury it in the sand and hold it ransom for the release of Benjamin Boyd and $200,000 to boot.

Interestingly, one of the few decorations in The Hub was a bust of Abraham Lincoln. So I like to think of Canale sitting there at the bar trying to figure out, how do we bust Benjamin Boyd out of prison and looking up at Abraham Lincoln's bust and getting the idea, hey, why don't we steal his body? Now, this sounds like a harebrained scheme. It sounds like a like some sort of ridiculous scheme that would have no chance of succeeding. But again, Lincoln's body was only guarded by this iron gate with a padlock. Anyone with a sledgehammer can break this lock. So he recruited a gang of five people to actually pull this off and Canale wasn't on the scene.

He kind of kept his hands clean. They also came up with the date of doing this on election night of 1876. This was when Rutherford B. Hayes was facing off against Samuel Tilden and they assumed that the nation would be distracted. They would be more focused on the election, not worried about Abraham Lincoln's tomb.

It would might give them more cover and give them more time to get away. It should also be noted that stealing a body wasn't as unusual as it sounds today. And grave robbing was not only relatively common compared to today, but it was also relatively big business because grave robbers would then sell the cadavers to hospitals and medical facilities, which would then use them for experiments.

And these medical facilities didn't really ask many questions of where the bodies came from. Now, that wasn't Canale's plan to sell the body, but just two years after this attempted grave robbing attempt, this attempted grave robbing just two years after the body of another president's father was stolen. And that was Benjamin Harrison. His remains were stolen in 1878, and luckily they were found before they were carved up by a medical facility.

So that's like another weird story, but that just goes to show how this was possible. So, Canale recruits a gang of five people to steal Abraham Lincoln's body. Little did he know that two of those five people were also paid informants for the Secret Service. They were getting five dollars a day from the Secret Service to inform on criminals like Big Jim Canale. So once they got recruited, they turned to the Secret Service, and they said, When they got recruited, they turned to the Secret Service, and they told them about this plan. So the Secret Service was waiting inside one of the chambers in the memorial tomb.

On November 7th, 1876, the gang easily sawed off the lock and entered the tomb. They just as easily took the lid off of the sarcophagus. But then they discovered it wasn't that easy to remove a 500-pound lead-lined coffin.

So it took them a while, and they managed to pull it out about 15 inches. Now the Secret Service is hiding in another room in the tomb, just waiting for that ideal moment to catch these criminals red-handed. But before that ideal moment came, one of the Secret Service agents accidentally fired off his gun. Hearing this bullet, the criminals ran. But with one of the informant's help, they pretty easily tracked down the criminals three days later, and they were arrested. Now at the time, stealing a body wasn't a crime, so they couldn't charge them with stealing a body. Instead, they charged the criminals with attempting to steal a 75-dollar casket. Big Jim Canale was never charged with a scheme, but instead was arrested for another crime, and ended up going to jail. But the criminals, who were actually attempting to steal the coffin, they each got a year in the Illinois State Penitentiary. And what a story you've been listening to. This is just one of those harebrained schemes that actually could have worked if the Secret Service hadn't infiltrated his little gang of five. Little did Big Jim Canale know that two of his guys were, you know, CIs, confidential informants.

For the then nascent and new Secret Service, which job primarily wasn't to guard the presidents of our country, but to guard our currency and to stop counterfeiting, which was out of control at the time. When we come back, more of Louis Poquon, his storytelling about Abraham Lincoln, here on Our American Stories. This is Lee Habib, host of Our American Stories, the show where America is the star in the American people, and we do it all from the heart of the South, Oxford, Mississippi. But we truly can't do this show without you. Our shows will always be free to listen to, but they're not free to make. If you love what you hear, consider making a tax-deductible donation to Our American Stories. Go to OurAmericanStories.com. Give a little, give a lot.

That's OurAmericanStories.com. Have you ever wondered what it would be like to have supervision, enhanced hearing, extraordinary reflexes, to be, dare we say, superhuman? Well, Roku's new Pro Series TV can't do any of that for you. But with a 4K screen, side-firing speakers and a blazing fast refresh rate, it'll sure feel like it. Elevate your entertainment using all your favourite apps like iHeart, and play all your music, radio and podcasts with the new Roku Pro Series.

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Search for World of Secrets wherever you get your BBC podcasts. And we return to Our American Stories. And the story of Abraham Lincoln's brush with a rag-tag group of grave robbers after his death. When we last left off, the Secret Service had foiled an attempt to steal Lincoln's body and bury it for ransom in the sand dunes of Indiana. After this, security enhancements to the tomb were needed, and a group of men took it upon themselves to provide just such measures. Let's return to the story.

Here again is Louis Picone. So just imagine the horror of Mary Todd Lincoln and Robert Todd Lincoln when they discovered how close this gang came to stealing Abraham Lincoln's body. Because if it wasn't for these two gang members that were also moonlighting for the Secret Service, there was a real good chance that they would have gotten away with this plot. It was so easy to break in there and to remove the sarcophagus. So Robert Todd Lincoln really representing the family was adamant that the body needed to be better protected. But they didn't know what to do. There was no other, there was no easy way to make the coffin more secure.

So the caretakers at the Oak Ridge Cemetery came up with a plan. And they decided to gather a group of men, swear them to secrecy and secretly remove the coffin from the sarcophagus and hide it in the basement of the Lincoln Memorial tomb. This was down in the basement.

There was no ventilation. It was damp, it stunk down there and in the basement, it was just ground. It wasn't even over concrete.

This is now over ground. So they dug a hole into the ground and attempted to bury the coffin. They knew it wasn't secure, but they figured their advantage was nobody knew that the grave was there. Everybody thought the coffin was still inside of the sarcophagus. So they knew that burying the coffin in the basement under the ground wasn't secure, but their advantage was that nobody knew it was there. So as long as it was a secret, they felt that Lincoln's coffin was safe.

First time they dug a hole, water started to steepen. So they found another spot and instead of burying the coffin, they hid the coffin covered beneath plywood. Now, nobody really went into the basement except for the caretakers and this small group of self-proclaimed guardians. They felt that it was safe down there and it was for about another year or so. The next year, in 1877, there was two bronze sculptures that were placed by the entrance of the tomb and construction workers were at the site and they needed access to the basement. So the caretakers were forced to bring these construction workers in on their secret. So they let them know, all right, we'll let you go down to the basement. But that's where Lincoln's coffin is hidden.

But you can't tell anyone about this. The construction workers said, yeah, we won't tell anyone about it. And very quickly, all Springfield was buzzing about this rumor that Abraham Lincoln isn't in that sarcophagus.

He's in the basement. Now, the caretakers dismissed it as just an outlandish conspiracy theory, which it was outlandish, but it wasn't a theory. It was true. For another year, the coffin remained hidden in the basement. Still, the public was unaware. They kind of dismissed this wild rumor. The next year, 1878, about two years after the attempted grave robbing, there was another shallow grave that was dug in the corner of the basement.

They found an area where the water table wasn't an issue. And again, they buried themselves. By this point, this group had now christened themselves the Lincoln Guard of Honor.

And it was a public group. So people knew about the Lincoln Guard of Honor, but they thought that they were just carrying and guarding the tomb. They didn't know that they were actually hiding the body of Abraham Lincoln. So now, four years later, Mary Todd Lincoln dies.

And Robert is just as concerned about Mary Todd Lincoln's body. So there's a funeral at the tomb. She is placed inside of a crypt.

But shortly after the funeral, the crypt is open and her coffin is removed down to the basement as well. For five years, Mary Todd Lincoln and Abraham Lincoln were buried in the basement in a very shallow grave until 1887. This is when finally there was a more secure attempt to secure the the coffins of Mary Todd and Abraham Lincoln. Eleven years Abraham Lincoln's remains were kept in the basement.

They were disinterred. They were placed beneath 18 inches of cement and secured in what was believed to be their final resting places. Under these 18 inches of cement, they are now secure and there will be no need to worry about grave robbers or anyone moving the coffin again. Now, once again, when they did this final move and they secured the coffins of Abraham Lincoln and Mary Todd Lincoln beneath this the cement layer, the coffins were opened.

It was written, the body was found to be in a remarkable state of preservation and easily recognized. But it was also written that Abraham Lincoln's face was more of a bronze. For 13 years, Abraham Lincoln's body was undisturbed until it was determined that the Lincoln Memorial tomb was sinking and they needed to reconstruct the entire thing. So once again, stonemasons were called and they needed to chip into those 18 inches of cement to get to the coffins to move that again. Now, it's tough to keep up with how many times that Lincoln's coffin was actually moved.

Estimates range between a dozen times or up to 17 or 18 times. Many of those times the coffin was opened and the morbidly curious took a look at Abraham Lincoln's features. But they closed the coffin for one final time, September 26, 1901. When you go there today, you can walk inside, you can walk through the memorial tomb, you can see the crypts that contain the remains of Mary, of Abraham Lincoln's children, Eddie, who died before he was president, Willie, who died in the White House, and Ted, who died at the age of 18. And then Robert Todd Lincoln lived a full life.

He's not buried at the crypt. He's buried in Arlington Cemetery, though, because he was later Secretary of War under James Garfield. Lewis also told a terrific story to our American stories about President Grant's tomb. Our Lincoln stories, my goodness, probably more stories about Lincoln than anybody.

The story behind the story of the Gettysburg Address with a terrific reenactment by a Lincoln impersonator. We have the last days of Lincoln's life, the short, happy life of Abraham Lincoln. We have Robert Todd Lincoln's story. We have Lincoln on the verge, his 13 day trip from Springfield to Washington, D.C., to become president. And now he avoided multiple assassination plots. We also have a story about Lincoln, the lawyer, Lincoln, the wrestler. He wrestled some bullies, some town bullies when he was young and also Lincoln, the first wired president.

The story of Lincoln's not so peaceful rest here on our American stories. Have you ever wondered what it would be like to have supervision, enhanced hearing, extraordinary reflexes to be, dare we say, superhuman? Well, Roku's new pro series TV can't do any of that for you. But with a 4K screen, side firing speakers and a blazing fast refresh rate, it'll sure feel like it.

Elevate your entertainment using all your favorite apps like iHeart and play all your music, radio and podcasts with the new Roku pro series. Your senses aren't better. Your TV is a web of manipulation and terrifying abuse. If you'd have said to do anything, I would have done it with a powerful religious figure at its center. There was no safe place.

You don't say no to him. World of Secrets from the BBC World Service is back with a brand new season investigating allegations surrounding the preacher TV Joshua. The culture of secrecy needs to be broken. Search World of Secrets wherever you get your BBC podcasts. High Five Casino is a social casino with real prizes and big Vegas hits at high five casino dot com. The hottest games right from Vegas and all winnings go straight to your bank account.

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Whisper: medium.en / 2024-06-11 04:40:08 / 2024-06-11 04:47:38 / 8

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