November 24, 1876
Dastardly Attempt to Despoil the Lincoln Monument
Springfield, Ill., Nov 7. An attempt was made this evening to perpetrate one of the most infamous outrages which the mind of man can conceive of—that of stealing the bone and ashes of Abraham Lincoln. Unfortunately, the perpetrators escaped, leaving the evidences of their crime behind them, and though the clews are next to nothing, if human ingenuity can track them it will be done. Somehow or other nobody knows how, J.C. Power, the custodian of the Lincoln Monument, became impressed with the idea that there were designs upon the remains and communicated his suspicions to Mr. Sweet and Robert Lincoln. They could hardly believe that any one even the meanest and lowest scoundrels in the land, could conceive such a thing. However, to prevent the horse from getting out of the stable, they concluded to lock the door—to adopt precautions even should there be nothing in the feeling. Accordingly Sweet wrote Col. Steward, of this city, about two weeks ago, requesting him to station a guard at the monument. This was done, but no one came to disturb the corpse. Detective Tyrrell, of the United States Secret Service, whose headquarters are in Chicago, having business here, was requested by Sweet and Lincoln to see Mr. Power, and to look around town and watch for suspicious characters. He arrived here three or four days ago, and commenced a vigorous shadowing of several small hotels, but saw no one whom he recognized. This afternoon Mr. Power came into town in a hurry and hunted up Tyrrell and informed him that two very hard looking cases had been out to the cemetary looking around, and he felt assured that they were there for no good purpose. One registered as from Kenosha, and other registered from Racine, Wis. Their names are suppressed, since they have nothing to do with what occurred later. An effort will, of course, be made to find out who they are. Mr. Power, not being used to the detective work, could give but meager descriptions of them. The result of the interview with Tyrrell is unknown, but he must have concluded that election night was an excellent one in which to rob the tomb.
The evening’s train brought from Chicago ex-Chief of the Secret Service Elmer Washburne, who, it seems, had been requested by Sweet and Lincoln to come here and aid Tyrrell. About half-past 6 o’clock, Washburne, Tyrrell, and three other men went out to Oak Ridge and concealed themselves in Memorial Hall, inside the monument, to await developments. One man was posted in the labyrinth in the rear, so called because of walls running in different directions and making numerous passage-ways, these walls supporting the terrace. His object was to hear the noises made in the vault, if any were made. After patiently waiting for nearly three hours, and when about tired out from standing still, the utmost silence being imperative, he heard a grating noise, which lasted perhaps five minutes.—then, in a little while, came several successive thuds, as if some one was hammering. The time having arrived for action, Washburne and his men slipped out of the door with cocked revolvers in their hands, determined to shoot to kill if any resistance was made. Just as they were turning the corner the left one of the men accidentally exploded his revolver. The noise was very loud, so still were the surroundings, and unfortunately it was too loud, for, though there were but about 120 feet to go over, when the officers got to the door of the vault the dastardly villians were gone. They must have had some one watching to give them the signal of danger, or else had come outside for a breath of fresh air, and heard the snapping of the cap and ran into the woods which surrounded the monument. It is but a short distance, and a man could get within shelter and unobservable in a quarter of a minute. The men at once scattered and went into the direction the thieves had gone, and, while dodging behind the trees, two of them exchanged shots, each mistaking the other for one of the fugitives. After shooting at each other, they cried “Wash,” “Wash,” indicative of a friend in such an emergency, and then they found out their mistake. The bullets whizzed close to both, and it was miraculous that they escaped injury.
No traces of the thieves being discovered, the party returned to the catacomb, and there beheld a sight which made them sad. The body, as is known perhaps, is inclosed in a lead casket. This is surrounded by a cedar case, and in the receptacle of these is a sarcophagus. The latter had a double lid, the upper one not being as large as the other. Both had been pried off with a chisel or an ax, and somewhat chipped in the operation. The under lid was laid crosswise on the casket, the headpiece on the floor and the upper lid standing against the wall. The casket itself was pulled out about a foot from the body of the sarcophagus, and a small piece had been taken off on the floor, where were also an ax with the edge full of marble dust, an ordinary chisel, and a pair of nippers. The other tools had evidently been taken away since the lock on the iron-grated door had been sawed off.
It should, perhaps, be stated that the sarcophagus was in the catacomb and not in the crypt, being thus placed in order that visitors might see it. The damage done is comparatively little.
The officers, of course, were disappointed at not catching the vandals, but they think it is only a question of a little time when they will be apprehended.
Only one motive can be attributed to these despoilers of the grave, and that is the hope of a reward for the restoration of the remains. If they had succeeded in carrying them off, it certainly could not have been the intention to take away the casket, for it must weigh from 500 to 600 pounds, and half a dozen men could not have carried it to the fence to transfer it to a wagon in the road. It is more than likely that they intended to cut open the casket and gather up the bones and dust of the martyr-President and put them in a bag. What would have been the indignation of the country had this been done? The scheme concocted by these men is certainly unparalled in the history of crime and now there is evidence of minds so debased it is certain that measures will be taken to guard the monument and prevent further attempts. The facts given above did not come until early this morning, and are known to only a few, otherwise the outlook would have occupied as great a share of the attention of the community as the election. Words cannot express the feeling of those who do know it, and it is earnestly hoped that the double-distilled perpetrators of this attempted robbery of the remains of American’s most loved President will soon be brought to justice.