A spate of recent documentaries have described Abraham Lincoln as a secular saint. But in the two-hour documentary “Stealing Lincoln’s Body” (8 p.m., History), it turns out he suffered the same fate as medieval saints: His remains were dug up frequently and passed around for reasons ranging from veneration to exploitation. Think of a 19th-century version of “Weekend at Bernie’s.”
Shortly after his death, his corpse was embalmed and then put on display for millions of Americans in a traveling funeral procession that visited many cities and lasted for weeks. By the end, Honest Abe was getting a little ripe.
Once safely buried, poor Lincoln wasn’t really safe because he wasn’t really buried. His body was put in a temporary spot while his crypt was completed. And even when that was done, his mausoleum was broken into in 1876 by a band of audacious counterfeiters bent on blackmailing the government.
And that’s just one of a series of disinterments and reburials that transpired between 1876 and 1901. And if all of this moving around isn’t disturbing enough, people had the dark habit of popping off the lid and peeking inside, just to make sure the Old Rail Splitter was still in there.
“Lincoln’s Body” features interviews with historians happy to relate a strange tale, and barely able to contain their whimsical contempt for the bumbling incompetence of body snatchers and crypt builders of days gone by, the kind of colorful characters who too often get left out of the history books.
• In “Right America, Feeling Wronged: Some Voices from the Campaign Trail” (7 p.m., HBO), filmmaker Alexandra Pelosi follows McCain-Palin supporters and asks them about Barack Obama. What she found, or what she presents here, is a group of people universally resentful that “real Americans” are being ignored and that the “right” positions on guns, God, gays and abortion will be reversed.
In addition to the zealous, Pelosi interviews many “characters” with definite views. One young man sports a T-shirt that declares “Obama is a Socialist,” but he has misspelled “Socialist” and can’t define the word.
It’s rather easy to stack the deck in films like this. Bill O’Reilly once sent a camera crew to interview drug addicts and vagrants and declared that they represent “San Francisco values.” On the other hand, it seemed frighteningly easy for Pelosi to find Grade-A whack jobs in the proximity of every Palin rally.
“Right America” will enrage many, amuse some, and change nobody’s mind.
Tonight’s other highlights
• Rob Reiner guest stars on “Hannah Montana” (6:30 p.m., Disney).
• Chuck and Sarah pose as a married couple on “Chuck” (7 p.m., NBC).
• A fallen priest suffers startling visions on “House” (7 p.m., Fox).
• A teen (Nolan Gerard Funk) seeks stardom in the musical movie “Spectacular!” (7 p.m., Nickelodeon).
• Homeland Security targets Nathan on “Heroes” (8 p.m., NBC).
• Chloe has issues with Janis (Janeane Garofalo) on “24” (8 p.m., Fox).
• Kyle has dues to pay on “Kyle XY” (8 p.m., Family).
• High gas prices can be murder on “CSI: Miami” (9 p.m., CBS).
• Allison reacts badly to a crime scene on “Medium” (9 p.m., NBC).
Viveca Lindfors stars in writer-director Henry Jaglom’s 1995 chatfest “Last Summer in the Hamptons” (7 p.m., IFC).