STEALING LINCOLN

As millions celebrate the 200th birthday of Abraham Lincoln this year, HISTORY™ presents perhaps the last unknown story of our 16th president – the shocking plot to steal his body.

 

Lincoln’s assassination in April 1865 plunged the nation into mourning.  After lying in state at the White House and at the Capitol (the nation’s first presidential state funeral), Lincoln’s body was carried by train in a grand funeral procession through several states and nearly two thousand miles, arriving in his hometown of Springfield, Illinois on May 4.  However, his final burial would not take place until 1901, thirty six years later.

 

Before Lincoln finally came to rest in a steel-and-concrete-reinforced underground vault in Springfield, the President’s body was repeatedly exhumed and moved, his coffin frequently opened. An astonishing and macabre series of events also included a diabolical bodysnatching-for-ransom scheme.  This remarkable final chapter is the subject of the gripping two-hour special STEALING LINCOLN’S BODY on HISTORY™ on Monday, February 16 at 9pm ET. 

STEALING LINCOLN’S BODY examines the extraordinary confluence of historical trends and cultural movements that prompted this forgotten moment in American history—the age of counterfeiting, the birth of the Secret Service, the popularizing of the science of embalming (from the Civil War), the importance of secret societies in American life (including the one that was formed to safeguard Lincoln’s body through the ages), and the advent of the rural cemetery movement.

Bringing this astounding story to life like no other before it, the program features moving images of Abraham Lincoln, digitally created from actual historical photographs. For the first time, Lincoln walks and moves according to the historical record.  The moving images and some of the stills showcase the first “virtual photography” of Lincoln and the only “virtual motion” pictures of him ever created. Using computer-generated imagery, it illustrates key sections of the story and brings them to life, often with startling effect.

 

These new photographs and moving images of Lincoln highlight a level of historical detail and information never seen before. Ray Downing of Studio Macbeth, who created these digital effects for STEALING LINCOLN’S BODY, explains the technique began as a kind of experiment using contemporary film technology.  It gives the modern audience an opportunity to “gaze upon the noble face of our most beloved president, to see him walk down the street, to see him alive again…. Today’s technology allows us to achieve a level of photographic realism previously unattainable, with the added bonus of motion graphics.”  

 

Author and Lincoln scholar Harold Holzer, who is interviewed in STEALING LINCOLN’S BODY, says:  “The result—an uncanny, believable, realistic, living Lincoln—moving before our eyes as he must have in life, wholly imagined yet based on actual photos—took my breath away. Here is the man who lived, laughed, spoke, walked, for precious seconds practically born again.” 

In 1876, 11 years after Lincoln’s assassination, a band of Chicago counterfeiters devised a fantastic plot to steal Lincoln’s body and hold it for ransom. They wanted $200,000 and the release of the gang’s master engraver who was in prison in Illinois.  The Secret Service – recently formed to deal with the country’s ballooning counterfeiting problem – infiltrated the gang with an informer.  Yet it also set in motion a cringe-inducing chain of events in which a group of well-intentioned, self-appointed guardians took it upon themselves to protect Lincoln’s remains by any means necessary.

Some efforts to protect the remains of the 16th President of the United States would prove to be equally misguided and macabre. Finally, in 1901, thirty six years after Lincoln’s assassination, Robert Todd Lincoln had the body of his father interred in a massive concrete vault. The contrast between the nation’s reverence for Abraham Lincoln and the shocking manner in which his body had been treated is striking.  This strange story of Lincoln at un-rest reveals how important this man was to so many, and perhaps our reluctance to let such a beloved and visionary leader go.  This may indeed be the last, unknown chapter in the story of Abraham Lincoln.

 

Throughout 2009, History™ will proudly commemorate the bicentennial of Abraham Lincoln’s birth with a new initiative entitled GIVE A LINCOLN FOR LINCOLN. In association with the National Park Foundation and the National Trust for Historic Preservation, this program encourages Americans to donate Lincoln-head pennies, five dollar bills, or make larger donations online to help preserve six key sites associated with Lincoln’s life and legacy. The six sites are:

 

·        Lincoln’s birthplace in Kentucky

·        His boyhood home in Indiana

·        The Lincoln Home in Springfield, Illinois

·        Lincoln’s Cottage in Washington DC

·        The Lincoln Memorial in Washington DC

·        Fords Theatre in Washington, D.C.

 

Teacher and student contests, original short form video about Lincoln’s life and Presidency, related lesson plans, as well as instructions for how to donate to this campaign will be available online at www.history.com/lincoln. Log on today to learn how you can help save Lincoln’s legacy!

 

STEALING LINCOLN’S BODY is produced for HISTORY by Left/Right. Executive Producer for History is Carl H. Lindahl. Executive Producers for Left/Right are Ken Druckerman and Banks Tarver.

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