Curse of Tippecanoe

William Henry Harrison, nicknamed Old Tippecanoe, died just a month after taking office in 1841.

The Curse of Tippecanoe (also known as Tecumseh's Curse or the 20 Year Presidential Curse) is the supposed pattern of deaths in office of presidents of the United States elected or re-elected in years that are evenly divisible by 20,[1] from 1840 to 1960. Because of the timing of presidential elections, these are also those taking place in years ending with 0. The presidents fitting this description were William Henry Harrison (elected in 1840), Abraham Lincoln (1860), James Garfield (1880), WIlliam McKinley (1900), Warren Harding (1920), Franklin Roosevelt (1940) and John F. Kennedy (1960).

Ronald Reagan (1980) was seriously wounded by gunshot, but survived more than 15 years after his second term. George W. Bush (2000) survived his terms in office, despite an assassination attempt. Thomas Jefferson (1800) and James Monroe (1820) preceded the supposed curse, and outlived their presidencies by 17 and 6 years, respectively.

Legendary curseEdit

William Henry Harrison was elected president in 1840, but he died in 1841, just a month after being sworn in. Ripley's Believe It or Not! noted a pattern in 1931 and again in 1948,[2] claiming that a president elected in a year ending in zero would die in office. They termed it the "Curse of Tippecanoe", a reference to a Harrison nickname for his commanding role as governor of the Indiana Territory in the 1811 Battle of Tippecanoe.[3] The battle was part of Tecumseh's War, in which Shawnee leader Tecumseh and his younger brother Tenskwatawa organized a confederation of Indian tribes to resist the westward expansion of the United States. In a battle near the Tippecanoe River, Tenskwatawa and his troops were defeated by troops commanded by Harrison. When Tecumseh was killed in a latter battle, Tenskwatawa supposedly set a curse against Harrison.[4]

Media mentionsEdit

Strange as it Seems by John Hix ran a cartoon prior to Election Day 1940 titled "Curse over the White House!" and claiming that "In the last 100 years, Every U.S. President Elected at 20-Year Intervals Has Died In Office!"[5] In February 1960, the journalist Ed Koterba noted that "The next President of the United States will face an eerie curse that for more than a century has hung over every chief executive elected in a year ending with zero."[6] The mentions by Ripley, Hix, and Koterba, however, did not specifically refer to the tale of Tenskwatawa as the source of the curse. Instead, the first written account referring to the source of the curse, described as the Curse of the Prophet, occurred in an article by Lloyd Shearer in 1980 in Parade magazine.[7]

Running for re-election in 1980, President Jimmy Carter was asked about the curse at a campaign stop in Dayton, Ohio on October 2 of that year while taking questions from the crowd. A high school student asked Carter if he was concerned about "predictions that every 20 years or election years ending in zero, the President dies in office." Carter replied, "I've seen those predictions. ... I'm not afraid. If I knew it was going to happen, I would go ahead and be President and do the best I could till the last day I could."[8]


Since 1963, no president has died in office, even when elected on twenty-year marks.

The election of Ronald Reagan in 1980 was not followed by his death in office, despite him being seriously wounded in an assassination attempt within months of his 1981 inauguration.[9] Days after Reagan survived the shooting, columnist Jack Anderson wrote "Reagan and the Eerie Zero Factor" and noted that the 40th president had either disproved the superstition, or had nine lives.[10] Reagan, the oldest man to be elected president at that time, also survived treatment for colon cancer while in office. First Lady Nancy Reagan was reported to have hired psychics and astrologers to try to protect her husband from the effects of the curse.[11][12][13] However, the Reagans' son Ron revealed in his memoir that President Reagan began showing symptoms of Alzheimer's as early as three years into his first term as president.[14] Reagan left office on January 20, 1989, and ultimately died of pneumonia complicated by Alzheimer's disease on June 5, 2004, at the age of 93.[15]

The president elected in 2000, George W. Bush, also survived two terms in office, which included a 2005 assassination attempt by Vladimir Arutyunian in which a live grenade was thrown at Bush and Georgian president Mikhail Saakashvili, but failed to explode.[16] He completed his final term in office on January 20, 2009.[17]

In addition to such exceptions, the curse also demonstrates a number of logical fallacies, including confusing correlation with causation, cherry picking, moving the goalposts, and the lottery fallacy.[1] Of the eight U.S. presidents to have died in office, Zachary Taylor was elected in 1848, not in a year divisible by 20.[18] Furthermore, many U.S. presidents not falling into the pattern of years divisible by 20 have faced assassination threats, plots, or attempts.

Presidents elected in years divisible by 20Edit

Elected Picture President Term of death Term of election that was a multiple of 20 Cause of death or attempted assassinations Date of death
1840   William Henry Harrison First First Typhoid April 4, 1841
1860   Abraham Lincoln Second First Assassinated April 15, 1865
1880   James A. Garfield First First Assassinated[19] September 19, 1881
1900   William McKinley Second Second Assassinated September 14, 1901
1920   Warren G. Harding First First Heart attack August 2, 1923
1940   Franklin D. Roosevelt Fourth Third Cerebral hemorrhage April 12, 1945
1960   John F. Kennedy First First Assassinated November 22, 1963
1980   Ronald Reagan N/A First Assassination attempt June 5, 2004
(did not die in office)
2000   George W. Bush N/A First Assassination attempt[16] Living

See alsoEdit


  1. ^ a b Redmond, Timothy J. (November–December 2019). "The Presidential Curse and the Election of 2020". Skeptical Inquirer. Vol. 43 no. 6. Center for Inquiry. pp. 40–43. Archived from the original on 13 April 2020. Retrieved 13 April 2020.
  2. ^ Ripley's Believe It or Not, 2nd Series (Simon & Schuster, 1931); an updated reference is on page 140 of the Pocket Books paperback edition of 1948
  3. ^ The New Big Book of U.S. Presidents by Todd Davis, Marc Frey
  4. ^ Randi Henderson and Tom Nugent, "The Zero Curse: More than just a coincidence?" (reprinted from the Baltimore Sun), November 2, 1980, in Syracuse Herald-American, p C-3
  5. ^ Oakland Tribune, November 5, 1940, p12
  6. ^ Koterba, Ed (1960). "Pennsylvania avenue ponderings" (25). Hammond Times.
  7. ^ Pohl, Robert (2013). Urban Legends and Historic Lore of Washington D.C. South Carolina: The History Press. ISBN 978-1540209030.
  8. ^ Public Papers of the Presidents of the United States: Jimmy Carter, 1980-1981. 1981. p. 2031-32. ISBN 1623767806.
  9. ^ Presidential Prophecies, History Channel
  10. ^ The Sunday Intelligencer (Doylestown, PA), April 5, 1981, p 8
  11. ^ Wadler, Joyce (23 May 1988). "The President's Astrologers". People. Retrieved 12 June 2013.
  12. ^ Zuckerman, Laurence (16 May 1988). "Nancy Reagan's Astrologer". Time. Retrieved 12 June 2013.
  13. ^ Cohen, Richard (22 October 1989). "Where Was Nancy's Astrologer?". Philadelphia Inquirer. Retrieved 12 June 2013.
  14. ^ My Father at 100: A Memoir (Penguin)
  15. ^ "Former President Reagan Dies at 93". Los Angeles Times. June 6, 2004. Retrieved July 9, 2013.
  16. ^ a b "Bush grenade attacker gets life". January 11, 2006. Archived from the original on July 4, 2008. Retrieved June 11, 2016.
  17. ^ "Obama inauguration: George Bush—the man who was no longer president". The Guardian (U.S. online ed.). London. 20 January 2009. Retrieved June 11, 2016.
  18. ^ "Death of the President of the United States". Boston Daily Evening Transcript. July 10, 1850. Retrieved October 17, 2011.
  19. ^ Facts About The Presidents by Joseph Nathan Kane

External linksEdit