Sunday, August 26, 2007

So last summer (or thereabouts; I'm saying it was last summer for our purposes here), I read and enjoyed very much The Trouble With Tom, which follows the travels of Thomas Paine's body over the century or so following his demise. So I felt it only fitting, this summer, that I should read Stealing Lincoln's Body by Thomas J. Craughwell, which gives a similar treatment to the remains of the Great Emancipator. In particular, as the title suggests, the book recounts a little-known plot to steal the remains of Lincoln, and hold them for ransom, demanding $200,000 and the release of a convicted counterfeiter. Unforunately, this book is not nearly as engaging as Paul Collin's treatment of Paine, mostly because the story of the conspiracy to steal Lincoln is pretty simple and dull. The crooks were fairly inept, their capture relatively routine, and the story most notable for the paranoia it led to in keeping the bodies (Abraham and Mary Todd) safe from further attempts (Lincoln's corpse was moved repeatedly, his casket opened twice for identification purposes, before ultimately being entombed in concrete). The book uses this basic story as a framework for various digressions, some interesting (Lincoln's funeral, Mary Todd's battle with the Lincoln Monument association, the creation of a secret society to conceal the remains of Lincoln), but most not too terribly gripping. Overall, it's a quick read, well-written, if a bit too strident in telling the life story of every bit player in the scandal, and is worth a look for those interested in Lincoln, or the abduction of corpses for ransom.

It's also worth a look for people like me, who intend to make reading about the corpses of famous Americans an annual tradition. So here's hoping someone writes a book along those lines for next summer, or else I'll have to attempt to defile the corpse of Millard Fillmore (I intend to say that Mallard Fillmore gave me the idea) to give the nation's quirky historians fodder for a new book. Or maybe read a book about who's buried in Grant's tomb. Grant's tomb...hey, that's a nice segue into my visit to Del Taco yesterday. Stay tuned for Del Taco/Ulysses S. Grant confluence madness, coming soon!

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