The Adventures of Abraham Lincoln's CorpseS

Abraham Lincoln was one of the most celebrated and mysterious presidents in the in U.S. (maybe this is why he made such an excellent vampire hunter.) His assassination sent a nation into mourning, and was followed by a two week funeral tour by train car. But Lincoln's body did not find rest at the end of this procession. Everyone from thieves to politicians tried to take control of the corpse — even decades after it was finally buried.

Here is the macabre tale of the journeys taken by Lincoln's corpse over the decades before 1901, when at last it came to rest in a ten foot block made of cement and steel.


The Adventures of Abraham Lincoln's Corpse The 1600 mile, 400 plus city Funeral Tour

After the assassination of Lincoln on April 15th, his body went through an extensive embalming process before embarking a two week, sixteen-hundred mile tour via train on April 21, 1865. Lincoln did not make the tour alone, as the body of his son William Wallace Lincoln accompanied him, who died of typhoid fever at the age of 11 and buried in the DC area in 1862.

The tour gave a country a final chance to mourn one of its most beloved (and youngest) presidents, with the train making a snake-like tour winding through over 400 train stations along the way, including stops in Philadelphia and New York City, before arriving at the Oak Ridge Cemetery in Springfield, Illinois on May 3rd, 1865.

An extensive schedule of public viewings coincided with the train journey, with Lincoln's body on display for 10 to 12 during most days of the railroad journey. This method allowed hundreds of thousands to mourn the fallen Lincoln during the two week traveling funeral.

Lincoln's body, kept in a special funeral car, began to decay by the time of the New York City stop, concerning many viewers due to a significant change in skin tone.

The Adventures of Abraham Lincoln's CorpseS

Snatching Lincoln's body

Lincoln's body resides in a tomb at Oak Ridge Cemetery in Springfield, Illinois, per the decision of Mary Todd Lincoln, but not without several disturbances. On November 7th 1876, a busy election night, a band of counterfeiters attempted to exhume the corpse of Lincoln to hold it for ransom in return for $200,000 (a little over $4 million today) and the release of Benjamin Boyd, a crafty, but imprisoned, engraver of counterfeiting plates.

The group of counterfeiters-turned-grave robbers entered Lincoln's tomb and removed the marble lid covering the coffin, but did not succeed in moving the coffin more than a few feet before a U.S. Secret Service member entrenched in the grave robbers' party warned local law enforcement. Interestingly, Lincoln created the Secret Service in 1865 to combat counterfeiting, with the organization's range extended to presidential security in 1901 after the assassination of President McKinley.

Several of the grave robbers escaped, but once captured, they received modest one-year sentences in Joliet State Prison. Lincoln's coffin traveled to a number of secret locations in the following years, with the coffin opened to confirm that Lincoln's body remained inside twice between 1876 and 1887.

The Adventures of Abraham Lincoln's CorpseS

The 1901 viewing of Lincoln's Body

The grave robbing attempt along with the decay of Lincoln's tomb led Lincolns remains to be moved to a temporary site, with Lincoln and his wife interred in a newly constructed tomb in 1901.

Lincoln's eldest son, Robert Todd Lincoln, suggested surrounding his father's coffin in a ten foot steel cage and covering the coffin in cement in order to seal the body and prevent anyone from moving it in the future. Robert Todd Lincoln used this technique when he oversaw the burial of George Pullman. Robert Todd feared the railroad tycoon's body could be a target for desecration in future labor disputes.

Thirty-six years after President Lincoln's death, 23 people viewed Lincoln's body in order to dissolve rumors that his remains no longer lay in the coffin. After chiseling away a part of Lincoln's lead lined coffin, the men viewed the shoulders and head of Lincoln's long dead body, confidently noting the body belonged to the president, mentioning his trademark beard and wart, along with patches of yellow mold on his suit and a particularly strong smell that filled the air after the chiseling of the coffin finished.

The Adventures of Abraham Lincoln's CorpseS

Lincoln's body, along with that of his wife and three youngest sons, now lies in the Lincoln Tomb, a grandiose structure named one of the first of the United States' National Historic Landmarks in 1960. A 1930 renovation of the Lincoln Tomb created more room for visitors, as the tomb became one of the United States first historic tourist attractions. Lincoln's body moved 17 times on the way to its final resting place, but ten feet of cement and steel ensures that it will take a lot of time and effort to move (or view) the body again.

Iimages courtesy of Life, David Jones/CC, and The Lincoln Highway National Museum & Archives. For an extremely detail account of the movements of Lincoln's body, check out Stealing Lincoln's Body by Thomas Craughwell. Sources linked within the article.