Lincoln's Grave Robbers

by Steve Sheinkin

Scholastic Press
January 2013

Ages 10 – 14 . Grades 5 – 9

Lexile measure: 930L

DRA: 50

Guided Reading: U



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.
Steve Sheinkin

Steve Sheinkin is the critically acclaimed author of National Book Award Finalist and Sibert Medal winner Bomb: The Race to Build -- and Steal -- the World's Most Dangerous Weapon; Most Dangerous: Daniel Ellsberg and the Secret History of the Vietnam War, winner of the YALSA Award for Excellence in Nonfiction; and National Book Award Finalist The Port Chicago 50. He resides in Saratoga Springs, New York.


  • This meticulous and tremendously suspenseful account of the attempted heist of Abraham Lincoln’s body in 1876 reads like a smartly cast fictional crime thriller, with a skillful buildup of tension and sharp character portrayals. Sheinkin (Bomb) lays the groundwork for the plot by delving into the history of counterfeiting, a booming business during and after the Civil War (“By 1864, an astounding 50 percent of the paper money in circulation was fake”). James Kennally, leader of one of the largest counterfeiting rings in the Midwest, masterminded the plot to steal the late president’s body from the Lincoln Monument, outside Springfield, Ill. His intent was to ransom the purloined corpse, hitting up the government for a tidy sum of money and the freedom of his jailed, top-notch engraver. Perhaps the most dynamic player is Lewis Swegles, a shrewd career criminal who juggled double roles as Secret Service informer and alleged conspirator. Sheinkin’s study of Swegles’s thought process and machinations intensifies the drama of the final showdown between the would-be robbers and government officials. A sizzling tale of real-life historical intrigue.
    - Publishers Weekly starred review


--- - ! "At ten o'clock that night, Whitley was sitting at the desk in his hotel room, writing up a report. There was a gentle knock on the door.
\t“Come in,” said the chief.
\tThe door opened. A voice sang out, “Good evening, Colonel!”
\tWhitley turned to his guest. “McCartney!” he shouted, drawing his revolver. “How are you here?”
\t“Put up your shootin'-iron, Colonel,” McCartney said. “I merely called to pay my respects. I am going back, of course.”
\tAnd McCartney really did walk back to prison. Smiling all the way.
\tHerman Whitley never did figure out how McCartney got out of jail that night. However he did it, the stunt illustrated a serious challenge facing the U.S. government in the 1870s. The Secret Service was absolutely determined to catch counterfeiters and keep them behind bars. But coney men were just as eager to get free–and they were good at it, too."