May 2003

by Frank Crawford

A bizarre event took place in American History in 1876 with an abortive effort on the part of a few men in Springfield, Illinois.  That effort was to steal or kidnap the remains of the Sixteenth President of the United States, Abraham Lincoln.  This scheme was the brainchild of a Terrence Mullins, a semi-successful operator of a small and elusive ring of counterfeiters.  The "bad" money operations of Mullins had recently suffered a serious set back to success when a man named Ben Boyd was arrested and incarcerated in the Joliet Penitentiary.  This Mr. Boyd had the dubious reputation of being one of the most talented engravers of counterfeit United States currency plates.  Running out of both good and bad money, Terrence Mullins and his close friend and cohort, Jack Hughes, were faced with the need to find a way to recoup their financial fortunes that were failing miserably at the time.  A plan was conceived to actually steal the remains of President Abraham Lincoln, now dead for just eleven years, from his burial spot in Oak Ridge Cemetery north of Springfield, and take it to the shifting whispering sand dunes in northern Indiana, near Lake Michigan, where it would be secretly buried.  The changing sands would soon destroy any evidence of new construction as the winds continued their allusive movement across the unstable sand.  All traces of the location of the body would almost immediately be removed.  By carefully recording natural landmarks, distances and directions, Mullins and his cronies would have no difficulty locating the exact spot when the time came to retrieve the coffin.  

The plan continued.  Terrence Mullins would pose as an innocent bystander forced into the role of negotiator and notify the Governor of Illinois that he (Mullins) had been given assurance that the remains of President Lincoln would be returned on the payment of $200,000 and the release of Ben Boyd, the engraver, from prison.  It seems, from later testimony, that Mullins also expected to be hailed as a true public benefactor when the remains were returned to and placed in the Lincoln Tomb.

Jack Hughes, Mullins' close friend, and been recently indicted for passing bogus money but was free on bond at the time.  A Patrick Tyrrell, Chief of the Secret Service in Chicago, the man that had arrested Boyd, the engraver, had assigned one of his best men to keep Hughes under close surveillance and report his activities and associates.  This man was Lewis Swegles.

Let's take a moment to re-identify the personnel involved up to this time.
1. Terrence Mullins - successful counterfeiter.
2. Jack Hughes - close friend of Mullins and indicted on counterfeiting charges.
3. Ben Boyd - engraver and a prisoner at Joliet Penitentiary.
4. Patrick Tyrrell - head of the Secret Service in Chicago.
5. Lewis Swegles - first rate detective for the Chicago Secret Service.

Swegles became a steady customer at THE HUB, a Madison Street saloon in Chicago.  This was because Terrence Hughes was also a steady customer and Swegles hoped to befriend the counterfeiter, becoming somewhat a confidant.  Part of this scheme involved Swegles informing Hughes that Swegles was a recently released prisoner from Nebraska and was looking for a way to make some easy money.  "Birds of the feather flock together."  Hughes seems to have swallowed the ruse, hook, line and sinker and was soon confident enough to introduce Swegles to his friend, the "Boss," who might have something lucrative for him to do.

Mullins agreed to meet with Swegles and was soon convinced that he would welcome the opportunity to join with the men, (Mullins and Hughes) in any type of deal that held promise of easy and ready money.  Mullins outlined his plan to Swegles and informed him that Swegles could become a part of it.  Mullins' plan had been carefully prepared and was seemingly fool-proof.

The three men would take the evening train to Springfield on November 6th and the following day they would visit the tomb.  While there, as tourists, they would make a careful study of the structure and decide as a committee what would be the best plan to accomplish the goal.  Detective Swegles reported this plan to Commissioner Tyrrell who was astonished at the boldness and daring of the plan.  This was nothing like what he had in mind to combat when he first assigned Swegles to his task.  This was not counterfeiting, this was kidnapping and it was not in the same league as bogus money.  Tyrrell instructed Swegles to return to THE HUB and agree to everything Mullins might suggest.  Tyrrell would gather a band of accomplices, conceal them within the tomb and await the attempt of kidnapping.  Swegles was to obtain the part of the lookout for the plan, and, after the coffin was removed from the sarcophagus, drive the horse and wagon from the east gate of Oak Ridge Cemetery.  Swegles was to strike a match, lighting a cigarette at the front door of the tomb.  This would serve as a signal that the time had come for the capture of the criminals.

From this point, the conspiracy, on both sides, seemed to take on an air of the Key Stone Cops.  At the appointed hour on November 7th, chosen because it was a moonless night, the lawmen were hiding in the deserted hall of the building at the front of the building.  They heard the men working on the door of the burial chamber and they momentarily expected to see the signal flare from Swegles's match.  It did not come.  Later they heard the intruders hammering on the marble sarcophagus but still the signal did not come.

Meanwhile, Mullins, in his haste to make a fast job of the opening of the padlock, broke the saw blade and was forced to resort to the long and tedious job of filing the shaft of the lock.  When the lock was finally opened, the door was opened also and yet another unexpected development took place.  Mullins turned, grabbed Swegles, who was supposed to remain outside, and shoved a lantern in his hand.  He then shoved Swegles into the tomb and told him to shine the lantern onto the sarcophagus.  Swegles was not going to be able to do otherwise without arousing suspicion by protesting.

While Swegles held the lantern, Mullins and Hughes, with great labor, opened the sarcophagus exposing Lincoln's coffin which they then partially withdrew.  Now Swegles was sent for the horse and wagon and they would be well on their way to Indiana before the theft could be discovered.  Swegles went in haste in the general direction of the east gate but after moving down the bluff on which the tomb stands, he circled around to the front of the building.  There he lighted his match at the front door.  Mullins and Hughes, however, were no longer within the tomb.  They too had left and were waiting under a large oak tree about a hundred feet from the tomb.

Tyrrell and his men, seeing Swegles's signal, dashed around the tomb in haste and, when at the door, Tyrrell ordered the thieves to come out and give themselves up.  They had been discovered.  There was no response to the demand and, of course, no one came out.  Tyrrell then entered the tomb, finding nothing except the dismantled sarcophagus and an unopened coffin. 

As all of this was going on, Mullins and Hughes were watching from under the oak tree.  They assumed that Swegles had been caught so they rapidly made their way out of the cemetery and avoided capture.  They were not sure what had happened to Swegles but they reasoned that if he had been captured, he would talk and that if he talked, they would be in great danger.  Any future plans relied on Swegles's fate.  The men made their way back to the Springfield depot, back to Chicago and back to THE HUB.  On their arrival at their favorite watering hole, they found none other then Lewis Swegles waiting for them.  He assured them that he had not been captured but that he had returned with the horse and wagon in only a few minutes and the area was empty.  There was no one there.  He simply returned to Chicago for further instructions.  Mullins and Hughes were much relieved and thus spent the remainder of the evening celebrating the fact that they had not been arrested and had made a fortunate escape.  Celebration was indeed in order.
On November 8th, Swegles was in Tyrrell's office and plans were made to arrest Mullins and Hughes that night.  Swegles returned to THE HUB where he continued the deception of the two would be grave robbers.  At 11 PM members of the Chicago Police Department, led by Patrick Tyrrell entered THE HUB and arrested the two men who offered no resistance.

On November 20, 1876, a special Grand Jury was convened in Springfield a true bill was entered charging the men with attempted larceny and conspiracy.  No more serious charge was possible because, at that time, there was no state law making grave robbing a felony.  The trial opened on May 30, 1877, after several postponements, and on June 2, 1877, Terrance Mullins and Jack Hughes were found guilty as charged and sentenced to serve a term no less than one year in the state penitentiary at Joliet, Illinois.  They were to join their friend Ben Boyd after all. 

As it so happens, President Lincoln was harassed from all sides, even in death.  His body was moved from place to place no less than twelve times since being carried to the first burial vault in Oak Ridge Cemetery on May 4, 1865 until its final interment in 1901.

Following the previous incident which happened in 1876, the members of the Lincoln Monument Association, in whose care the tomb was placed, simply hid the body.  John Carroll Power, the custodian of the tomb and two members of the association agreed that it would be better that as few persons as possible would know the location of the Presidential remains.  The public was not informed of the new burial site.  Each of the three was committed to the secret and the idea was very simple.  If and when any one of the three men passed away, the remaining two would meet, choose a single replacement to the "committee", and, upon his agreement to hold the secret, reveal the location of the remains.  This procedure would be repeated upon the death of each member of the "committee" so there would be no danger of the location being lost in time.

Therefore, working at night, November 15, 1876, Power and his friends carried the coffin into the center of the structure to the base of the obelisk where a shallow grave was made, or at least attempted to be made.  Before finished, water began to seep into the trench and it eventually filled the ditch making burial there impractical.  Because they could not decide what now must be done with the remains, the men simply left them where they were, resting on a couple of planks and covered it with debris left over from the construction of the tomb.  This was to be a "temporary" placement for the almost hallowed remains, but there they remained until November of 1878 before some decision was reached as to properly dispose of the coffin.  On that night six member of the committee (the committee had grown) met and removed the coffin to yet another unnamed location near the base of the obelisk.  So much for the secrecy of its location with only three people.  Here the men were successful in digging a shallow grave and they placed the casket and the remains inside and covered them with dirt.

On February 12, 1880, the seventy - first anniversary of Lincoln's birth, these same men, joined with three others of the association, met and formed what was to become known as The Lincoln Guard of Honor.  Some of the "duties' of this eminent society was to conduct memorial services at the tomb on succeeding anniversaries.  It was also organized to accept the guardianship of the tomb and the body of the President from the National Lincoln Monument Association.

Then, on July 16, 1882 a new dilemma arouse.  Mary Todd Lincoln died.  Three days later her remains were taken to the tomb and placed in one of the crypts within. At this point in time, the soul surviving Lincoln family member, Robert Todd Lincoln made it known that he wanted his mother's remains to be placed beside his father's.  The members of the Lincoln Guard of Honor, wishing to maintain the secret of the Presidential remains' location, then met on July 21, and buried Mary Todd beside her husband.  Now anxiety for the safety of the bodies remained and the members were also very unsatisfied with the undignified manner of the burials.  Something had to be done.

Nothing was done until spring of the year 1887.  It was then, April 15th, the twenty-second anniversary of the President's death, that the two bodies were removed from their secret burial spot.  Attempting to lay to rest the rumors that the body of "The Great Emancipator" had been stolen, it was decided that the casket would be opened to confirm the contents.  These remains were viewed by all of the members of the Lincoln Guard of Honor and they all confirmed the contents to be what they were supposed to be.  Lincoln had not been stolen.  The coffin was resealed, both sets of remains were entombed in a brick vault beneath the floor of the catacomb and the fears for the safety of Lincoln's remains vanished.  It was then that the Lincoln Guard of Honor's duties were considered finished and the remains were then reverted to the guardianship of the National Lincoln Monument Association.

In the year 1899 it was determined that the tomb itself had become dangerously weakened by the shifting of the earth under it making a rebuilding of the entire edifice necessary.  The building had been deeded to the State of Illinois just four years earlier, 1895, accepted by Governor Richard J. Oglesby.  The dismantling of the tomb began at once and on March 10, 1900, the remains of all of the Lincoln bodies were removed to a temporary subterranean vault built just for that purpose.

By April 24th, 1901, the rebuilt tomb was ready for its occupants.  Not more than 100 persons were present as the workmen removed the stone slabs from the covering of the vault.  The Lincoln's were moving again.

As the bodies of the Lincoln family were removed from their place in the vault they were immediately taken to their assigned location within the tomb.  Abraham's body was taken to the same site, in the white sarcophagus where it had originally been placed in 1874.  This, it was thought, would be its last interment.  It was not.

Lincoln's only surviving son, Robert Todd, was still concerned for the safety of his father's remains.  He came to Springfield to inspect the tomb and was not satisfied with the efforts that had been taken to insure against a repetition of the earlier attempt at stealing the body.  He wrote a long and thoughtful letter to Governor Richard Yates, explaining his concept for the burial that he wanted.  He stated, "I feel compelled to say that only by the adoption of such a plan as this would I be satisfied that all danger of desecration would be avoided."

This plan called for the placement of the Lincoln remains ten feet below the surface of the floor of the catacomb, to lie in an east - west direction.  The vault was to be of steel and concrete construction and, when the coffin was in place, the whole to be covered with twenty inches of soft concrete.  Governor Yates thus instructed the contractor that had built the tomb to begin construction without delay.  By September 26th, work was finished.  Those present at the ceremony planned were state officials, members of the former Lincoln Guard of Honor, and a few invited guests.  Robert had made it clear that he desired the casket remain closed but the Governor thought differently.  Whether it was from a strong curiosity or for a first hand identification, the coffin was opened.  Two plumbers, a Leon Hopkins and Charles Willey, were summoned to perform the task.  It was a task the same two had performed in 1887.

The remains were taken to the south room, Memorial Hall as it was called, and placed upon trestles.  All but the specifically invited guests were excluded from the identification process.  Upon their removal from the room, the doors were shut and guarded by two members of the Springfield police department.  Now, according to the governor's proclamation, everyone within the room would view, individually, the remains of the president; even the two police officers on duty, George Cashman and Robert Lindley.  Even the sons of these police officers, who had been secretly brought into the room under the greatcoats of their fathers, would be permitted to view the remains.  They were within the room; they would observe the remains.  These youths were George Cashman, Jr. and Fleetwood Lindley. 

When Fleetwood Lindley passed away in 1963, at the age of 75, he had just recently explained to the local press what he remembered of the day.  "Yes," he said, "his face was chalky white.  His clothes were mildewed.  And I was allowed to hold one of the leather straps as we lowered the casket for the concrete to be poured.  I was not scared at the time but I slept with Lincoln for the next six months." 

The other youth, George Cashman, also remembered the event until his death and it made even more of an impression on him, even as an adult.  The last years of his life, George Cashman was the curator of the National Landmark in Springfield called "Lincoln's Tomb."  He particularly enjoyed relating his story to the more than one million visitors to the site each year.  Mr. Cashman passed away in 1979, the last person to have viewed the remains of Abraham Lincoln.

The remains were so viewed and the lead-lined coffin was resealed, this time for the last time.  The workmen were called and it was returned to the catacomb where it was lowered into the prepared vault.  The work of closing the vault and relaying the tiling of the floor was begun.

President Lincoln's remains will remain there, as it has now for over one hundred years, undisturbed as long as the stone above it endures.

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