For some reason books on Lincoln are suddenly in season. Another superb book just out is Thomas J. Craughwell's "Stealing Lincoln's Body." The book explains how I came to be the possessor of the aforementioned picture. In the 1880s my great-great-grandfather was a Secret Service agent pursuing counterfeiters, for that was then the Secret Service's main duty. Counterfeiting and stealing bodies for ransom were major crimes in those days. When Captain Tyrrell got wind of a plot by Chicago counterfeiters to steal Lincoln's corpse from its burial place in Springfield, Ill., he maneuvered to insert his agency into a police action that might otherwise have been left to local authorities. Mark it down as another expansion of federal authority. From the attempt to steal Lincoln's body on, the Secret Service's responsibilities for presidential protection spread.
The attempt itself was comic, described by a reviewer at the Times of London as a plot hatched by the three stooges. Craughwell's books conveys the comedy and more serious stuff: the tragic assassination at Ford's Theatre, the suffering of the Lincoln family, crime and police work in early Chicago and the drama of the now forgotten Lincoln Guard of Honor, which took it as a sacred trust to protect the Lincoln remains from ever again being desecrated. Craughwell's book would make a hell of a movie. I admire both of these books, but apparently in my admiration I can be viewed as an oddity, at least by New York Post columnist John Podhoretz, who has written about the Ferguson book. In a column of tortured praise for it, Podhoretz notes that, "writers don't really root for each other. Usually they root against each other." Well, many of us writers have long been in awe of Podhoretz's essential smallness. Here he reveals himself as so cemented in it that he psychologically projects smallness on the rest of us. Acknowledging that Ferguson has written a fine book, Podhoretz confides, "The dark secret is that I would have been happy to think 'Land of Lincoln' wasn't very good." It takes a person of colossal narcissism to make such an admission in public, but I thank him for it. The ass has given me another good day.
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