The Curse of Tippecanoe

It seems that no one is exempt from being the subject of an urban legend—including United States Presidents. Such is the case with the Curse of Tippecanoe.

William Henry Harrison was the eighth President of the United States and the first one to die while in office. He also has the unfortunate distinction of having served the shortest amount of time. His tenure only lasted one month.

President William Henry Harrison (Public Domain)

Prior to his election, Harrison was a military officer who fought in what’s known as Tecumseh’s War. Shawnee leader Tecumseh and his younger brother Tenskwatawa organized a confederation of Indian Tribes to resist the westward expansion of the United States.

In 1811, during the Battle of Tippecanoe, Harrison defeated Tenskwatawa and his troops. It was then that Harrison earned the moniker “Old Tippecanoe.”

In 1931 and 1948, the trivia book series Ripley’s Believe it or Not, noted a pattern in the deaths of several presidents and termed it “The Curse of Tippecanoe.” Strange as it Seems by John Hix ran a cartoon prior to the 1940 election titled The Curse of the Whitehouse and claimed that “In the last 100 years, every U.S. President elected at twenty-year intervals has died in office.”

In 1960, journalist Ed Koterba noted that “The next President of the United States will face an eerie curse that has hung over every chief executive elected in a year ending with zero.”

Let’s look at these presidents.

  • William Henry Harrison, elected in 1840, died of pneumonia.
  • Abraham Lincoln, first elected in 1860, died at the hands of an assassin during his second term.
  • James A. Garfield, elected in 1880. Assassinated.
  • William McKinley’s second election was in 1900. He was also assassinated.
  • Warren G. Harding, elected in 1920, died of a heart attack.
  • Franklin D. Roosevelt, whose third election occurred in 1940, died of a cerebral hemorrhage during his fourth term.
  • John F. Kennedy, elected in 1960. Assassinated.

It seems the curse was broken after Kennedy’s death. To date, no elected president has died in office. Ronald Reagan, first elected in 1980, lived fifteen years after he left office. George W. Bush, first elected in 2000, is still living after leaving office in 2009. The current president, Joe Biden, was elected in 2020.

When running for reelection in 1980, a high school student in Dayton, Ohio, asked Jimmy Carter if he was concerned about the supposed curse and predictions. Carter responded he’d seen the predictions and said, “I’m not afraid. If I knew it was going to happen, I would go ahead and be the President and do the best I could until the day I died.”

At age 97, Carter is the longest living U.S. President in history and has lived forty-one years and counting since he left office in 1981.

Reagan survived an assassination attempt. In 2005, someone threw a live grenade at Bush, but it didn’t explode. Two presidents, Thomas Jefferson (1800) and James Monroe (1820) preceded the supposed curse. They survived their presidencies by seventeen and six years, respectively. Of the eight presents who died while in office, only Zachary Taylor was elected in an “off-year” in 1848.

Like Reagan and Bush, many presidents faced assassination attempts or health problems while in office and survived.

What do you think? Curse or strange coincidence?

35 thoughts on “The Curse of Tippecanoe

  1. I’m not sure about a curse, but it sure is a load of freaky coincidences. I hadn’t heard about the twenty year intervals and election years ending in zero, but it’s fascinating.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I came across this a few months ago by accident. Somehow I missed the hoopla when Reagan and Carter were running in 1980. It is a lot of coincidences, but strange things do happen. Thanks, Teri!

      Liked by 1 person

  2. This has been a question asked for quite some time. I don’t believe it was a curse, but that is just my thought. I don’t believe in coincidence either. I think this could be somewhere in the middle of things that make you scratch your head.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Most interesting. It’s hard to say whether it is/was indeed a curse or pure coincidence. The esoteric part of me wants to think it was a curse, perhaps put in place by the Native Americans being chased off their land. Thanks for sharing, Joan!

    Liked by 1 person

  4. I remember this coming up when Reagan was elected. Spooky stuff. I also remember there being a lot of coincidences between Lincoln’s assassination and Kennedy’s. It’s weird when you stop and think of it, but good that it if there ever was a curse, it appears to have been broken.
    Great post, Joan!

    Liked by 1 person

  5. I hope a coincidence, Joan. The thought of that cackling magpie Harris as president gives me the willies. I’m praying for Joe to continue until he is voted out of office. (At least we know what we’ve got with him.)

    Liked by 1 person

  6. I remember people talking about the curse when Reagan was elected. The talk increased after the assassination attempt. If it was a curse, who made it? Why? What broke it? The answers to those questions would make for a great novel.

    Fascinating post, Joan.

    Liked by 1 person

  7. I believe there can be curses. I think they’re more likely to be a propensity to overindulge in alcohol, for example, and not something supernatural. Interesting post. I’m glad the presidential deaths stopped happening starting in 1980, whether they were curse or coincidence.

    Liked by 1 person

  8. Great topic and post, Joan 🙂 There did seem to be something with with presidents, but its tapered down to just an attempt on their lives. Hopefully its on its way out. Its a dangerous job already.

    Liked by 3 people

  9. Hi Joan, this is certainly a great topic to write about. I am sure that presidents of the USA, or any other significant country, are at greater risk of heart attacks and other stress related deaths. Modern medicine seems to be managing the problem.

    Liked by 3 people

    1. It has to be one of the most, if not the most stressful job. In those early days, modern medicine wasn’t available. If Harrison had been alive today, he would have likely been treated for the pneumonia and survived.

      Liked by 2 people

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