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?

US Presidents #MysteryMonday

Hey, everyone. My Mystery Monday posts have been sparse this year, and now that the book tours for House of Sorrow and Cold Dark Night are over, I thought it was a good time to revise this monthly series.

Last Sunday was Independence Day, and America celebrated its two hundred forty-fifth birthday. Since the official holiday was on Monday, July 5, I decided to delay this post a week.

A few of my past Mystery Monday posts are what I call “strange coincidences.” I think this one fits that category.

“Thomas Jefferson survives.” It’s rumored those words were among the last of our second president, John Adams, as he lay on his deathbed in Quincy, Massachusetts. However, unknown to Adams, Thomas Jefferson died hours earlier at his Monticello home in Virginia.

Some might not think the deaths of our second and third presidents on the same day to be unusual. However, it only happened once in history. Not only that, Adams and Jefferson died on July 4, 1826, American’s fiftieth birthday.

As both men signed the Declaration of Independence, it seems almost fitting they would die on the anniversary of the approval of the document.

In the weeks that followed, many Americans thought the deaths went beyond coincidence. Representative Daniel Webster of Massachusetts delivered a eulogy that suggested the deaths were a sign that God was protecting our nation.

Another theory is both men willed themselves to hold on to life until that important date. However, when our fifth president, James Monroe, died on July 4, 1831, many agreed there was a religious significance.

James Monroe was a teenager who dropped out of college in 1776 to fight in the Revolution, enlisting in the 3rd Virginia Regiment. He rose to the rank of lieutenant colonel. Many historians consider Monroe the last president from the Founding Fathers.

In 2005, historian Margaret P. Batten suggested six possibilities regarding the deaths.

  • Coincidence.
  • Devine intervention.
  • “Hanging on” to life to ensure they died on July 4.
  • Caused to die at the hand of others. (Like today, there were also conspiracy theories in those early years of our country.)
  • Allowing oneself to die.
  • Causing oneself to die.

While three presidents have died on Independence Day, only one was born on this date. Calvin Coolidge, the twenty-ninth president, was born July 4, 1872.

What do you think? Coincidence? Conspiracy? Devine intervention? Something else? Please share in the comments.

Strange Coincidences #MysteryMonday

Hey everyone. Today’s Mystery Monday post is a bit different. This is the first post regarding strange coincidences. I plan to write a few of them now and then. After all, coincidences are often mysterious.

Robert Todd Lincoln (Public Domain)

A few weeks ago, when I posted about Lincoln’s ghost, I was reminded of a story about his son, Robert Todd Lincoln. I had always wondered if what I’d heard was true, so I decided to check it out. Turns out it was.

Robert Todd Lincoln was the eldest son of Abraham and Mary Todd Lincoln. He was born in 1843 and died in 1926. Robert was the only one of Lincoln’s four sons to live to adulthood. The others, Edward, Willie, and Thomas all died due to illness.

Unlike the others, Robert didn’t have a close relationship with his father. Late in his life, he wrote, “During my childhood and early youth he was almost constantly away from home, attending courts or making political speeches. In 1859, when I was 16 … I went to New Hampshire to school and afterward to Harvard College, and he became president. Henceforth any great intimacy between us became impossible. I scarcely even had 10 minutes quiet talk with him during his presidency, on account of his constant devotion to business.”

Robert attended Harvard Law but joined the Union Army late in the war, commissioned in the rank of captain. After his father’s death, he moved to Chicago, where he opened a law firm. He became quite successful by the 1870s.

Although he remained close to politics, he didn’t have the same aspirations as his father. He turned down President Rutherford B. Hayes’s offer to serve as Secretary of State but later accepted President James Garfield’s appointment as Secretary of War. Lincoln served in this capacity from 1881 – 1885. He also served as minister to Great Britain under President Benjamin Harrison.

On the night of April 14, 1865, Robert turned down an offer to accompany his parents to Ford’s Theater. After learning about his father’s assassination, he rushed to Peterson House and was present at his father’s deathbed.

On July 2, 1881, Lincoln was at the Sixth Street Train Station in Washington, D.C., when Charles G. Guiteau shot President James Garfield. Robert was an eyewitness to the event.

On September 6, 1901, Lincoln was at the Pan-American Exposition in Buffalo, New York, when President William McKinley was assassinated. Although he was not an eyewitness, he was outside the building where the shooting occurred.

In our nation’s history, only four presidents have been assassinated. Was it coincidence Robert Lincoln was present at three of them? He later refused to attend presidential functions, believing he brought bad luck.

In another strange coincidence, before his father’s murder, Lincoln was saved from possible death or serious injury on a train platform in Jersey City, New Jersey. The person who saved him? Edwin Booth, brother of John Wilkes Booth, Abraham Lincoln’s assassin.