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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 alleged pattern of deaths in office of Presidents of the United States elected in years that are equally divisible by 20, from William Henry Harrison (elected in 1840) through John F. Kennedy (elected in 1960). Ronald Reagan was elected in 1980 and was wounded by gunshot, but he survived. George W. Bush (2000) survived his terms in office, despite an assassination attempt.

The 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! claimed to note a pattern in 1931 and again in 1948,[1] claiming that a president elected in a year ending in zero would die in office. They termed it the "Curse of Tippecanoe". The name is derived from the Battle of Tippecanoe in 1811, when Harrison negotiated the 1809 Treaty of Fort Wayne, in which the Indians ceded large tracts of land to the government.[2] The treaty further angered Shawnee leader Tecumseh and brought government soldiers and Indians to the brink of war in a period known as Tecumseh's War. Tecumseh and his brother organized a group of Indian tribes to resist the westward expansion of the United States.

In 1811, Tecumseh's forces attacked Harrison's army in the Battle of Tippecanoe, earning Harrison fame and the nickname "Old Tippecanoe".[2] In an account of the aftermath of the battle, Tecumseh's brother Tenskwatawa supposedly set a curse against Harrison. This is the basis of the curse legend, even though it was Richard Mentor Johnson who was said[where?] to be the man who killed Tecumseh.[3]

Media mentionsEdit

Strange as it Seems by John Hix ran a cartoon prior to Election Day 1940 entitled "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!"[4]


Ronald Reagan broke the Curse by surviving the assassination attempt against him in 1981.

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 being seriously wounded in an assassination attempt within months of his 1981 inauguration.[5] 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.[6] 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.[7][8][9] However, the Reagans' son, Ron Reagan, revealed in his memoir that that Pres. Reagan began showing symptoms of Alzheimer’s as early as three years into his first term as president.[10] 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.[11]

The president elected in 2000, George W. Bush, also survived two terms in office, which included fainting from choking on a pretzel in 2002,[12] and 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.[13] He completed his final term in office on January 20, 2009.[14]

Presidents in the line of the alleged curseEdit

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 Apr 4, 1841
1860   Abraham Lincoln Second First Assassinated Apr 15, 1865
1880   James A. Garfield First First Assassinated[15] Sep 19, 1881
1900   William McKinley Second Second Assassinated Sep 14, 1901
1920   Warren G. Harding First First Heart attack Aug 2, 1923
1940   Franklin D. Roosevelt Fourth Third Cerebral hemorrhage Apr 12, 1945
1960   John F. Kennedy First First Assassinated Nov 22, 1963
1980   Ronald Reagan N/A First Assassination attempt Jun 5, 2004
(Did not die in office)
2000   George W. Bush N/A First Assassination attempt[13] Living

See alsoEdit


  1. ^ 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
  2. ^ a b The New Big Book Of U.S. Presidents By Todd Davis, Marc Frey
  3. ^ 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
  4. ^ Oakland Tribune, November 5, 1940, p12
  5. ^ Presidential Prophecies, History Channel
  6. ^ The Sunday Intelligencer (Doylestown, PA), April 5, 1981, p 8
  7. ^ Wadler, Joyce (23 May 1988). "The President's Astrologers". People. Retrieved 12 June 2013.
  8. ^ Zuckerman, Laurence (16 May 1988). "Nancy Reagan's Astrologer". Time. Retrieved 12 June 2013.
  9. ^ Cohen, Richard (22 October 1989). "Where Was Nancy's Astrologer?". Philadelphia Inquirer. Retrieved 12 June 2013.
  10. ^ My Father at 100: A Memoir (Penguin)
  11. ^ "Former President Reagan Dies at 93". Los Angeles Times. June 6, 2004. Retrieved July 9, 2013.
  12. ^ Altman, Lawrence K. (January 15, 2002). "Bush to Be Monitored in Wake of Fainting Episode". The New York Times. Retrieved June 11, 2016.
  13. ^ a b "Bush grenade attacker gets life". January 11, 2006. Archived from the original on July 4, 2008. Retrieved June 11, 2016.
  14. ^ "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.
  15. ^ Facts About The Presidents by Joseph Nathan Kane

External linksEdit