The Disturbing Connection Between Charlie Chaplin And Abraham Lincoln

Actor, comic, composer, director, and writer Charlie Chaplin and the 16th president, Abraham Lincoln, have more in common than you think. Both were victims of grave robbers (yes, that's a thing).

From the 17th to 19th centuries, stealing from grave sites could mean a big payoff for those willing to do the morbid work. The wealthy often buried their loved ones with jewelry or other expensive artifacts that could be dug up and sold. Victorian doctors also needed cadavers for their research and studies. The practice of body snatching became very common, and it wasn't outlawed until the 1830s!

To steal a person's remains, robbers — also known as ghouls or resurrectionists — often worked in teams. They looked out for "new graves because it was easier to dig up the unsettled earth," according to Cemetery Index. Most of the time this took place during the winter since the warmer weather would decay the corpses more quickly. 

Two would dig up the body, while another person helped move the corpse to a buyer — most often, medical schools. According to PBS, "The practice was condoned by many medical practitioners and institutions who believed it was a necessary evil, one that was offset by the benefits anatomical study of the bodies would produce." 

Chaplin and Lincoln and their grave heists

Some bodies, especially those of famous people, were held for ransom. Soon after Chaplin died, his body was stolen from its final resting place in Switzerland. The robbers wanted $600,000 to give it back, according to Smithsonian, but they never received their bounty. Instead, the police tapped the phone of Chaplin's wife, Oona O'Neill, as well as several hundred local pay phones, and arrested Roman Wardas and Gantscho Ganev. Chaplin was laid to rest again in his original spot.

His family ensured Chaplin was super-secured, though, and added concrete above his grave. Before you think that grave robbing is an archaic thing, know that this happened in 1978! According to Mental Floss, Wardas and Ganev committed the crime in the hopes of nabbing enough cash to start their own auto garage business. 

Lincoln's heavenly rest faired a bit better. When body bandits tried to get his remains in 1876, they could only get as far as removing the marble lid, according to Gizmodo, before the law interrupted them. Instead of a ransom, the robbers were rewarded with jail time, but just a one-year sentence.

Since then, Lincoln's gravesite has gone through several renovations. He, along with his wife and three youngest sons, Edward, William and Thomas, can now be visited in the Lincoln Tomb at the Oak Ridge Cemetery in Springfield, IL. Don't even think of reenacting the body-snatching attempt though — Lincoln is buried in a concrete vault 10 feet underneath the chamber's marble floor.