Dear Cecil: Back in 1980 when Ronald Reagan was elected president I heard several mentions of an American Indian curse, cast in the early 19th century, which foretold the death while in office of all presidents elected during years ending in a zero. Who placed this curse and what has been its success rate? Ronnie obviously survived. Kiazi Brown, Washington, D.C.
If Reagan achieved nothing else while in office — and sometimes you have to wonder — he broke the back of the “Tecumseh’s curse” legend by leaving office alive. The previous seven presidents elected in years ending with zero weren’t so lucky. Here’s the grim roll call:
– Harrison, elected in 1840, died of pneumonia after serving 31 days.
– Lincoln, elected in 1860, assassinated.
– Garfield, elected in 1880, assassinated.
– McKinley, elected to a second term in 1900, assassinated.
– Harding, elected in 1920, died of a stroke in 1923.
– Roosevelt, elected to a third term in 1940, died of a cerebral hemorrhage in 1945.
– Kennedy, elected in 1960, assassinated.
The “curse” was popularly attributed to the Indian chief Tecumseh, whose forces were defeated in 1811 at the battle of Tippecanoe by troops led by William Henry Harrison, the first of the seven presidents to die. Harrison also led soldiers against Tecumseh at another battle in 1813 during which the Indian leader was killed. An 1836 play had Tecumseh cursing the white man as he lay dying on the battlefield, but there is no evidence that he actually did so. The whole thing was pretty spooky just the same.
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