Wednesday, April 20, 2016

Lincoln's Grave Robbers - Steve Sheinkin

Summary: A true crime thriller -- the first book for teens to tell the nearly unknown tale of the brazen attempt to steal Abraham Lincoln's body!

The action begins in October of 1875, as Secret Service agents raid the Fulton, Illinois, workshop of master counterfeiter Ben Boyd. Soon after Boyd is hauled off to prison, members of his counterfeiting ring gather in the back room of a smoky Chicago saloon to discuss how to spring their ringleader. Their plan: grab Lincoln's body from its Springfield tomb, stash it in the sand dunes near Lake Michigan, and demand, as a ransom, the release of Ben Boyd --and $200,000 in cash. From here, the action alternates between the conspirators, the Secret Service agents on their trail, and the undercover agent moving back and forth between the two groups. Along the way readers get glimpses into the inner workings of counterfeiting, grave robbing, detective work, and the early days of the Secret Service. The plot moves toward a wild climax as robbers and lawmen converge at Lincoln's tomb on election night: November 7, 1876. (Summary and image from

Review:  In the 1870s, it still hadn't occurred to anyone that the President of the United States needed guarding.  In fact, the Secret Service wouldn't assume control over guarding the president until two more had been assassinated. Yet the Secret Service existed with the express intent to hunt down, arrest, try, and remove counterfeiters from the nation's money supply.  Counterfeiting was so easy that it's estimated that at some points during the 1800s, half (HALF) of all the currency being circulated was fake.

So, what does this have to do with robbing the tomb of President Abraham Lincoln?

Sheinkin delves into a fascinating, head-scratching, bewildering story of a group of counterfeiters who plot to steal Lincoln from his grave.  The logic they show is sometimes flabbergasting,  but the methodical way they plan to execute their plot is frankly unsettling.  At the same time, Sheinkin tells the story of the Secret Service agent who stumbles upon the plot and works tirelessly to foil the attempt.

This book is fascinating.  Not only reading about how counterfeiters worked, how prevalent it was at the time, and how truly powerful they were, but reading about the methods used to push the money into mainstream currency flows, how they were tracked and prosecuted, and the lengths they'd go to in order to continue their business, this was a world I knew nothing about! Throw in a good whodunit, a botched attempt of grave robbing (or two), politics, and the influence of a presidential election in the investigation into the mix, and you're sure to be entertained.

I had heard about the plot to rob Lincoln's tomb before, but really only in passing, and never as detailed as this.  I devoured this book in under a day, and immediately passed it along to my son who hungers for nonfiction books.  As a side note, why are nonfiction books like these so hard to find for Middle Readers?  Seriously, that's an untapped audience.  

If you've got a budding historian in your life, or if you need a quick and educational book, this is definitely one to add to your list.

Rating: Five stars

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