Grave Robbers, Abraham Lincoln and The Secret Service

On the night of his assassination, the legislation that created the United States Secret Service lay on President Lincoln’s desk. You may be surprised to learn that the history between Abraham Lincoln and the Secret Service did not end there. It followed the slain president and his family in death.

Abraham Lincoln Sixteenth President of the United States
Abraham Lincoln - 16th President of the United States
Abraham Lincoln's Tomb
Abraham Lincoln's Tomb, Springfield, Illinois

The Secret Service was founded as a law enforcement agency attached to the Department of the Treasury in July, 1865. Its remit was to combat the counterfeiting of US currency which was prolific at that time. It had no role to play in presidential protection until 1894, except for a single  event — an attempt to steal the body of President Abraham Lincoln.

The Night They Tried to Steal Lincoln's Corpse (2.08 minutes)

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Lewis Segles, a Secret Service informant, had infiltrated a gang of counterfeiters and learned of a plot to steal the body of President Lincoln and hold it for ransom. He reported the details to Patrick D. Tyrrell, Chief of the Chicago District Office of the Secret Service.

On the night of 7th November, 1896, Swegles accompanied Terence Mullen, a saloonkeeper and Jack Hughes, a counterfeiter to Oak Ridge Cemetery in Springfield. Tyrrell and his Secret Service agents lay in wait close to The Abraham Lincoln Burial Site.

Mullen and Hughes used a file to open the padlock securing Lincoln’s burial chamber and easily broke into the white marble sarcophagus containing the president’s remains, but the would-be graverobbers were unable to move his coffin very far. They had given little thought to how they would exhume and escape with a 500-pound cedar-and-lead coffin.

Mullens and Hughes abandoned the coffin and raced back to Chicago after a hidden detective accidentally discharged his pistol. They were arrested by Tyrell a few days later in the salon in which they’d hatched their conspiracy.

2 thoughts on “Grave Robbers, Abraham Lincoln and The Secret Service”

  1. What an awesome site you have here! I’m a huge history nerd and still found several of your facts new and interesting to me.

    It’s especially intriguing to me that I never knew about the history of the Secret Service! I’m interested to know how the Secret Service moved from a law enforcement agency dealing with counterfeit currency into their role as chief security for the President and those surrounding the office? Was it purely bureaucratic? Sounds to me like a story worth delving into! 

    Thanks for the interesting read!


    • Hi Raff,

      Thanks for taking an interest in my post.

      In 1894, the Secret Service provided protection for President Grover Cleveland on a part-time basis. It was an informal arrangement.

      However, following the assassination of President William McKinley in 1901, Congress requested that the Secret Service provide protection for all US presidents.  In 1902, two fulltime agents were assigned to the White House Detail. Things have come a long way since then.




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