Hey, Matt!:

I was watching President Ford's funeral on C-SPAN and something occurred to me. The cameras kept cutting away to Betty, who was sitting in a huge armored Cadillac. At least I assume it was armored because the widows were really small and the roof posts were really thick. Is the president's hearse armored? Does his body have any value to our country's enemies? Has the U.S. ever paid ransom to get back a VIP's corpse? I can't think why the hearse should need built-in protection, but there are a lot of goofy people out there.

-- Bob Tepedino, Hillcrest

That's the motto of the Secret Service, isn't it -- there are a lot of goofy people out there? One of the perks of being an ex-president is full-time protection for life (and beyond, apparently) by the guys in black suits and aviator specs. With guns. The Ford hearse and the Caddy are attack proofed. As for U.S. willingness to ransom people, dead or alive, we're not crazy about it these days, but in the time of Thomas Jefferson it was a different story. A frigateload of U.S. sailors ran aground off Tripoli (Libya) and ended up being taken as slaves of the reigning pasha. He demanded a ransom for them. Instead, Jefferson sent the Marines and some covert operatives who planned to off the pasha and put his brother in power and release the sailors (laying the philosophical foundation for the CIA, I think). Things went sideways, and the U.S. ended up paying the pasha $60,000 ransom.

As for ransoming dead people, for some reason, the late 1800s seemed to be a popular time for grave robbing. Some of the deceased ended up in anatomy classes for med students, but thieves were not above digging up some rich guy and holding his body for ransom from the rich guy's heirs. But the closest we've come to a presidential corpsenapping involved -- who else? -- Abe Lincoln. The man didn't get a moment's peace, even in death.

When Lincoln died, Mrs. Lincoln wanted his tomb built in Illinois. His body was moved there and for the next six or seven years was transferred between temporary vaults and crypts while the townspeople toiled over the huge building. He didn't rest in his permanent sarcophagus until 1874, nine years after his death. Then, in 1876, four counterfeiters in Chicago decided to steal the body to hold it for ransom (terms: $200,000 and the release of one of their friends from prison). They broke into the tomb and were hauling out the coffin just as the feds closed in. Seems three of the thieves were bona fide crooks, the fourth was a Secret Service agent.

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