The public outpouring of grief which greeted the funeral train en route to the resting place of the late Abraham Lincoln at Oak Ridge Cemetery at Springfield, Illinois might had been well-documented in terms of the number of people who have come to view the body of the assassinated president one last time in 1865, but much less is known of what happened in 1876, 11 years after the 16th United States President had been laid to rest. It was the case of when the body of the late president was almost being stolen in that same year, two years after the completion of the Lincoln Tomb.
Throughout the documentary special, it uses photographs and photo reconstruction, making it the characters in the photograph coming to life, and the re-enactment of what happened during the attempted theft at Lincoln's tomb. For anyone expecting a construction of what happened from the beginning to the end, the documentary special first gave the context of what happened leading up to the assassination of Lincoln through historians and academics where it also included the explanation of how embalmment came to be a common practice during the American Civil War and Lincoln's awareness of the concept when one of his younger sons Willie died in 1862. When it comes to what happened during the time of the assassination, the very moment when it happened was shown, but through the manner of the drawing of what happened at Ford's Theatre and when the assassin John Wilkes Booth escaped.
What happened after that is well-known, in terms of Lincoln would pass away the day after he was being shot. But what was not expected was the level of outpouring of grief from the public, and the burial plans which initially went into disrepute between the politicians who wanted Lincoln to be buried in Washington D.C. and Lincoln's grieving wife Mary who wanted Oak Ridge Cemetery. Not only that, what goes into the building of the tomb which was actually not fully completed when Lincoln was buried.
It is what led to the attempted theft of the body of Lincoln which gave an interesting insight of what would led to the role of the Secret Service as we know it, as compared to what was its original role. It all started when an Irish-born crime boss James Kennally, who had already ran a counterfeiting ring in Chicago, was hatching a plan for the release of engraver Benjamin Boyd who was sentenced to ten years' jail at the Joliet Correctional Center, and he wanted to steal Lincoln's body from the tomb and hold it for ransom in exchange for the release of Boyd. He would come to enlist the help with two of his gang members Terence Mullen and Jack Hughes, before realising no one had an experience in bodysnatching, which was not considered a serious crime at that time of the plot in 1876.
At the saloon called 'the Hub', they would meet a third man Lewis Swegles who agreed to be part of the plot. Swegles would bring in a fourth man Billy Brown to be the getaway driver. The plan was to do it on the same day of the presidential elections of 1876, where the people's attention will be on the outcome of the results and it was only months later when Rutherford B. Hayes was declared the winner. The plot to steal Lincoln's body did happened but, it would be foiled by the man Mullen and Hughes met at 'the Hub', Swegles. It turned out that Swegles had actually reported the plot to the head of the Chicago branch of the Secret Service, Patrick D. Tyrell.
But even with the foiled plot and the men involved being arrested, Lincoln would not have a proper burial until 1901. The events of 1876 meant that there is no stone left unturned when it comes to protecting the body of Lincoln by a group of volunteers who took it upon themselves to do so, and also changed the way how the Secret Service operates in the United States as a whole. It may be more known as protecting the president in current times, but it was actually more known for stopping counterfeiting back then.
It can be fascinating along the way in the documentary special on attitudes towards bodysnatching, and how the role of the Secret Service is not always what we tend to associate with. But it is also quite an insight into how the man who would come to be regarded as possibly the greatest American president of all time, would only actually come to have a peaceful burial years after his death, for someone of his stature who is still the point of reference for politicians in the current times.
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