Zero-Year Curse of Tecumseh
William Henry Harrison
The Death of a President
When William Henry Harrison. the ninth President of the United States, died apparently of pneumonia, the event didn't sound inconceivable.
For one, he was quite old. In fact at 68, Harrison was the oldest person to be elected the President of the US up to that time - a record that was broken by Ronald Reagan in 1980.
Then, March 4, 1841, the day he took the oath of office was cold and wet. But perhaps to show that he still was the same strong hero of Tippecanoe, Harrison was not wearing an overcoat or a hat while he delivered the longest inaugural address in the American history. He took nearly two hours to read it and then rode through the streets in the inaugural parade.
So it wasn't surprising that he should catch cold that was to develop into pleurisy and pneumonia that proved fatal. Harrison died on his 32nd day in office, becoming the shortest-serving American President ever.
Here the events leading to Harrison's seemingly natural death should have rested in history with a footnote that he was the first president to die in office.
But it was not to be.
After Harrison strange things started to happen.
Presidents elected in years ending with zero were dying in office without completing their term.
The first two three such events may have gone un-noticed or at best may have been brushed off as mere coincidence.
But when the pattern continued without a break for long, it gave rise to the talk of an ominous curse that was stalking the American presidents. And that the jinx had probably started with Harrison himself who was elected in 1840, a year ending with zero.
Did Harrison Die A Natural Death?
Previously it was believed that Harrison's illness was directly connected with bad weather.
The emergence of the curse gave rise to such doubts:
- How could Harrison have caught cold more than 3 weeks after the wet and cold day of his inauguration? He fell ill on March 26.
- Why he did not respond to the very best treatment that he must have got as the president of the land?
- Wasn't it strange that Harrison should die on April 4 exactly after one month to the day he took office?
Thus started the speculations that the presidential curse had origins in the past of Harrison going back to the Battle of Tippecanoe where he had emerged as an American hero by defeating Indians and gaining their lands for the United States.
Shawnee Chief Tecumseh
What Is the Curse of Tecumseh?
As governor of the Indiana Territory, William Harrison lured the Native Americans to give up their lands to the American Government. For this he is said to have handed out whiskey and possibly other inducements to the owners of the land.
These belligerent acts infuriated the Shawnee tribe chief Tecumseh and his brother. They assembled native tribes to repulse the onslaught of the whites resulting in what is known as the Battle of Tippecanoe of 1811. Harrison prevailed and as a result was hailed the American hero fondly called Old Tippecanoe - a nickname he was to use successfully in his presidential campaign of 1840.
But smarting under the defeat, Tecumseh or his brother, called the Prophet, is reputed to have set a jinx upon Harrison and future American chiefs, as they called the American presidents, who got elected in years ending with a zero.
Believe It Or Not Goes Public With the Curse
The curse was known to the public but not as widely as when Ripley's Believe It Or Not broke it to the public in its book published in 1931. Now it became the talk of the nation. By the time the curse was first mentioned by Ripley, five presidents had supposedly fallen victim to it.
The first victim was Harrison.
Then came others, starting with Abraham Lincoln.
1860 - Abraham Lincoln
Abraham Lincoln, one of the most famous US Presidents,was elected in 1860 and completed the first term without mishap.
Unfortunately he was not lucky in the second.
John Wilkes Booth a famous actor and Confederate spy shot Lincoln as he was sitting unguarded in the state box in the balcony of the Ford's Theater on April 14, 1865.
Lincoln died the next day.
1880 - James A Garfield
Charles J. Guiteau, a disgruntled federal office-seeker, shot President James Garfield twice on July 2, 1881 in Washington at Sixth Street Station of the Baltimore and Potomac Railroad.
One bullet grazed the President's arm but the second entered his body. Alexander Graham Bell devised a metal detector to locate the bullet but it was never found.
Garfield became seriously ill as a consequence of the attack and died on September 19, 1881.
1900 - William McKinley
William McKinley was elected the President of America for the second time in 1900. It was then that the curse struck. While greeting the public at Temple of Music on September 6, 1901, William McKinley was shot twice by Leon Frank Czolgosz.
One bullet grazed McKinley's shoulder but the second entered his body, injuring his stomach,
pancreas, and kidney and lodged in his back. X-ray machine had been invented by then but doctors weren't sure what effect it might have on the President. So they treated his wounds believing that he would recover.
But that was not to be. Eight days after being shot, William McKinley died on September 14, 1901, with these last words, "It is God's way; His will be done, not ours."
The next two presidents in the 20-year cycle were exceptions in a way.
Both escaped assassinations though died in office.
1920 - Warren G. Harding
Warren G. Harding was the 29th President of United States,elected the office in 1920.
But he did not complete his term. He died of heart attack or stroke on August 2, 1923
1940 - Franklin D. Roosevelt
Franklin Roosevelt was the much-elected president of the United States.
He won elections four times in a row the third of which was in 1940.
He sailed through the first 3 terms without any problem while guiding America through the Second World War. But he died of cerebral hemorrhage on April 12, 1945 soon after he was elected for the fourth term.
If these two president's escaped assassination, the next president elected in a zero-year did not.
1960 - John F. Kennedy
John Kennedy started his presidency in an upbeat mood with these inspiring words,
"Ask not what your country can do for you; ask what you can do for your country."
Soon the young President was to catch the imagination of everyone. But an assassin's bullet cut his life short on November 22, 1963, sending a wave of despair and revulsion throughout the world.
Kennedy's untimely death remains one of the most unfortunate events not only for the United States of America but for the whole world.
1980 -Ronald Reagan
When at 69, Ronald Reagan won the Presidential election in 1980, he became the oldest president ot the United States - a record that was until then held by William Harrison.
He accomplished yet another feat. He successfully evaded the so-called 20-year curse on presidents.
On the 69th day of being President, Ronald Reagan was shot by John Hinckley, Jr on March 30, 1981. Though he was seriously injured and near to death, he survived the attempt on his life. Reagan completed two terms and died in his bed at the ripe age of 93 in 2004.
2000 - George W. Bush
George W Bush too evaded the curse. Though there was an attempt on his life on May 10, 2005 in Tbilisi, Georgia, he was not injured. He too completed two terms as president and lives in retirement.
Is The Curse Over?
John Kennedy died nearly 50 years ago. After him the presidents elected in years ending with zero have not been affected by the curse.
So does this mean that curse has run its course?
Nobody can answer this question one way or the other. The reason is that no one can say for certain that there really was a 20-year curse. It is quite possible that events attributed to the curse could have happened when they did by a remarkable coincidence and nothing else.
But what if the curse was indeed real, will it strike again?
Only time can tell. 2020 is still far off.
Have your say
Was there really a curse on presidents?See results without voting
More by this Author
Ominous warnings greeted the archaeologists who opened the grave of Timur (Tamerlane) Were these empty threats or something more sinister?
Strange things started to happen after King Tut's tomb was opened. Was the Egyptian Pharaoh angry? Was he taking revenge for disturbing his peace? ...
Queen Victoria liked India and everything Indian and that included a man. Who was he?