Saturday, May 17, 2008

Something to look for in Illinois

Here’s something to look for if you are near Whiteside County, IL.

In the 1870’s there was a group or “gang” of counterfeiters that made a very good living printing their own money. The gang included a man known as “the most skilled of all counterfeit plate engravers” who’s name was Benjamin Boyd. Mr. Boyd was the son of a legitimate engraver and apprenticed with two other engravers, one of whom was a counterfeiter himself, before deciding a life of crime was easier than a real job. There was also “Big Jim” Kennally and another man known as Dr. Briggs. This “gang” operated from a farm near Unionville, IL that used to be known as the Abbott farm.

In 1875 the Secret Service caught up with Benjamin Boyd and Dr. Briggs and promptly put them in jail. It appears the Secret Service either wasn’t aware of the location of the counterfeiting operation and arrested them elsewhere or they did a very poor job of searching the place. The old Abbott farmhouse was later moved to a piece of land across the road from it’s original spot and during the move several bundles of funny money and the engraved printing plates were found in the basement. Now that would be a find!!

Local stories abound about several caches of gold coins, legitimate and funny money being stashed in the area of the Abbott farm by the counterfeiters but none have ever been found and it is not thought that any of the gang ever came back for them. It is said that the group also operated in the area of Fulton and Centralia, IL. And left a few caches of money in those areas also.

Why wouldn’t Big Jim Kennally dig up the caches and leave with his cohorts in jail? Well it seems Big Jim wasn’t the sharpest knife in the drawer and wanted to break the engraver and apparently the brains of the group out of jail so they could continue their counterfeiting ways. In all of his wisdom Big Jim enlisted the help of two other not so bright individuals to steal the body of Abraham Lincoln, yes, that Abraham Lincoln, and they intended on ransoming the body for $200,000 and the release of Benjamin Boyd from prison.

So in November of 1876 Big Jim and his two helpers broke into the Lincoln vault, struggled to remove the lid to the marble sarcophagus and stood there trying to figure out how they would get the lead and cedar coffin out. They hadn’t planned very well ahead and for Big Jim, he didn’t pick his helpers very well. It seems one of the men, a man by the name of Swegles, felt it benefited him more by alerting the custodian of the Lincoln tomb who, in turn, notified a long list of law enforcement including the Secret Service.

All of these different agencies were waiting for the theives outside of the tomb when Swegles signaled them to make their move. Apparently there were some Keystone cops in the crowd because several shots were fired, all by law enforcement apparently shooting at each other. Nobody was enjured during the shooting but the bad guys made good there get away. Until ten days later when they were found in a local bar and arrested. This puts the entire group of counterfeiters behind bars for several years so there is a good chance soemthing is still out there.

You can’t find it if you don’t look for it.

1 comment:

topdogdave said...

This is good! It is hard to find good treasure stories that happened here in the Midwest.

Can I reprint this in the Illinois & Iowa Treasure Hunters newsletter? You can find us at or at our network site