Lincoln and Kennedy

Hey, Readers. Those of you who have read my blog for a while likely know of my fascination (that’s probably the wrong word to use) with JFK’s assassination. I still maintain that America lost some of its innocence that day, but that is another matter.

Of the forty-five men who have served in the role of president, four died of natural causes while in office – William Henry Harrison, Zachary Taylor, Warren G. Harding, and Franklin Roosevelt. Four others were assassinated – Abraham Lincoln, James Garfield, William McKinley, and John F. Kennedy. Today’s post deals with an urban legend about two of those men, Lincoln and Kennedy.

Abraham Lincoln and John Kennedy (Public domain)

I first heard of the “strange coincidences” between the assassinations of Presidents Lincoln and Kennedy way before the internet was around. A newspaper article listed all the similarities between the two events. Recently, I remembered the article, so I decided to check its validity. Turns out some of the things are true.

  • Both men were elected to congress in ’46. Lincoln in 1846, Kennedy in 1946.
  • Both were elected to the office of president in ’60. Lincoln in 1860, Kennedy in 1960.
  • Each man had seven letters in their last name.
  • Both were concerned with civil rights. Lincoln signed the Emancipation Proclamation. Kennedy was the first to propose what would be the Civil Rights act of 1964.
  • Both men married when they were in their thirties and their wives were in their twenties.
  • Both were shot on a Friday. Lincoln on April 14, 1865, and Kennedy on November 22, 1963.
  • Both men were succeeded in office by Southern democrats named Johnson.
  • Their successors were both born in ’08. Andrew Johnson in 1808, and Lyndon Johnson in 1908.
  • Both assassins are known by their full names, John Wilkes Booth and Lee Harvey Oswald. (This is not uncommon as the press often uses a full name to distinguish assassins from innocent people with the same name. Another example is John Lennon’s assassin, Mark David Chapman.)
  • Speaking of the assassins, the total number of letters in each name is fifteen.
  • Neither Booth nor Oswald lived long enough to go to trial. After refusing to surrender, John Wilkes Booth was killed by Sergent Boston Corbett. (There is a conspiracy theory regarding Booth, and I’ll write about that in a future post.) While being transferred to the county jail, nightclub owner Jack Ruby shot and killed Oswald in the basement of the Dallas City Jail.

(Both photos are my own.)

There are some false assumptions/rumors involving the assassinations. While Ford shot Lincoln in a theater and Oswald ran to a theater after shooting Kennedy from a warehouse, the opposite didn’t hold true. Booth didn’t run to a warehouse as it has often been said but was found in a barn. Also, Lincoln’s secretary was named Kennedy, but Kennedy’s secretaries were not named Lincoln.

Nonetheless, there are some interesting comparisons between these two dark times in American history.

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?