Booktalk for LINCOLN’S GRAVE ROBBERS by Steve Sheinkin

During the Civil War, the U.S. Treasury started printing paper money—and by 1864, half of the paper money in circulation was fake, produced by counterfeiters, or “coney” men as the U.S. government agents called them. The fake money was causing serious problems for the country’s economic system. It was so bad, the government created the U.S. Secret Service to lead the fight against counterfeiting.

In 1874, one of the newest operatives with the Secret Service was Patrick Tyrell. He had years of experience as a detective in Chicago, and he was going to try to bring down the leader of the coney men, master engraver Benjamin Boyd.

Tyrell managed to capture Boyd—no easy feat—and when he searched the engraver’s house, he found engraving tools, metal plates, engravings for a U.S. $20 bill, as well as nearly $8000 of real currency hidden in a wooden box handle. It was enough evidence to keep Boyd behind bars for years.

With Boyd in prison, the counterfeiting ring was desperate. They absolutely had to get their master engraver back. Without him, they were going to collapse. They had to do something.

So they came up with a scheme. A bold and morbid scheme. They decided to steal President Lincoln’s remains—his bones—from his tomb, and hold them as ransom for Boyd’s release.


Genre: nonfiction, history

Grades 5-9.


Anna’s take on it:

I love how Steve Sheinkin makes history read like a spy thriller.

When I first started booktalking Lincoln’s Grave Robbers, I’d tell the kids up front that it was a true story. I soon discovered that the impact is much greater if I hold off on mentioning that it’s nonfiction. Instead, I get to the end of my booktalk and ask the class if it sounds like it could be a true story. Sometimes kids realize that it is, but usually heads shake and there’s a chorus of “No!” Then I tell them it’s an absolutely true story, straight out of history. There’s always an uproar. Students are appalled, delighted, and curious. They want to read the book.