Abraham Lincoln's Most Notorious Forgers
Henry Woodhouse was born Mario Terenzio Enrico on June 24, 1884, in Turin, Italy, to Lodovico and Garino Casalengo. Little is known about Henry's early childhood, except that he was extremely bright and motivated. During his school years, he displayed a great interest in science, language and culture. He was also an adventurous boy with big plans for the future. There was little doubt that he would one day fulfill his dreams of moving to America and making it big.
At age 21, Henry's dream was partly realized when he moved to America. However, he was far from being a success. To make ends meet, he took a job working in a restaurant kitchen. It was hard work with little pay, but he knew he had to begin somewhere.
Just a few months into his job a horrible incident occurred that haunted Henry throughout his adulthood and jeopardize his reputation. While working in the kitchen, a co-worker began an argument with the Italian immigrant. According to an essay by Jerry Kuntz, the co-worker allegedly lunged at Henry who had been holding a knife in his hand. Within seconds the man fell to the floor dead. It was suggested that he had accidentally impaled himself on Henry's knife.
The story of the "alleged" accidental death sounded suspicious to the police who arrested Henry. Following a brief trial, Henry was found guilty and sentenced to four years in New York's Clinton Prison. Henry was released in 1909.
Not long after his release he changed his name from Mario Terenzio Enrico Casalengo to the direct English translation, Henry Woodhouse. It was believed he did this because to shake the manslaughter conviction from his identity. Henry didn't want more obstacles to block his chance to be successful.
It didn't take Henry long to fully realize his dreams. In 1910, he discovered a passion for aviation and began to write articles in magazines about his newfound interest. Over the years, he authored many articles on the subject and became known as an expert in the field.
With the help of some wealthy friends, Henry established a magazine known as Flying that became a commercial success. Before long, his career also began to take flight. Kuntz stated that Henry founded several other magazines including a weekly newsletter titled Naval Aeronautics, Air Power and Scientific Age. Henry also contributed to the field of aviation by writing several books and founding the American Society of Aeronautic Engineering in 1915.
Henry began to reap the financial benefits from his business and publication successes, and his lifestyle drastically changed. He was no longer the poor Italian immigrant with a prison record, but a distinguished and successful businessman with connections and a talent for wheeling and dealing. Hamilton stated that although Henry profited greatly from his aviation publications, he made most of his fortune in real estate.
Henry was proud of his accomplishments and made no effort in hiding it. He was often heard saying that he was "working on a million-dollar deal." He would also brag about the many famous personalities he befriended throughout his career, including Teddy Roosevelt, Amelia Earhart, Charles Lindbergh, Orville Wright, Woodrow Wilson, and Arctic explorers Robert E. Peary, Richard Byrd and Ronald Amundsen, as well as a great many other celebrities of the time.
During the late 1920s and 1930s, Henry found a new passion: collecting. He collected mostly unusual artifacts, antiques, signatures of great American heroes and rare historical documents. Intriguingly, many of the signatures and documents he collected were not genuine, but actually Henry's own creation. In fact, Hamilton suggested that he was a compulsive forger, often falsifying the writing style and names of his famous friends in documents, letters and in books.
Henry was a prolific forger and had a special interest in reproducing and creating documents purportedly written by historical figures. Some of his works included forged documents of George Washington, Abraham Lincoln, and many of the signers of the Declaration of Independence. Although he was able to produce enormous quantities of fraudulent works, he was by no means the most highly skilled forger of his time.
Henry's lack of skill is clear in many of the documents he passed off as authentic, especially those purportedly written by Lincoln. Yet they were able to fool many collectors and prospective buyers from whom he profited. However, upon close inspection, experts were able to see that the works allegedly from Lincoln were obvious fakes.
When comparing Henry's forged Lincoln signature to Lincoln's original autograph there are several critical errors noticeable. Henry wrote in a light and somewhat shaky hand, as if he was unsure or overly conscious of making mistakes. It even appeared at times as if he traced the signature from a copy of the original version. Conversely, Lincoln's signature was often written boldly and in a steady hand. Moreover, in the forgery there were distinct stylistic differences in writing, especially when comparing certain letters like the capital "L" in Lincoln.
Henry may not have been the most adept forger, but it was something he likely enjoyed doing. It was also a means to make more money from unsuspecting suckers. Interestingly, he never was convicted of his criminal activities and was able to pursue his unusual hobby throughout most of his life.
It was, in fact, Henry's past that caused him the most trouble. It eventually caught up with him when details of the killing became public knowledge and severely hampered his career and reputation. As a result, he lost a great many of his friends and his magazine profits plummeted. He never was able to regain his social stature and he died a lonely man in January 1970, at the age of 86.