Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Tippecanoe and Others Too

As mentioned Monday, Harrison proved to be an effective leader during Tecumseh's War. In 1811, he launched a successful attack on Tecumseh's village on the Tippecanoe River, which earned Harrison the nickname "Old Tippecanoe." Not mentioned is the story of how Tecumseh's brother, Tenskwatawa who was also known as the Shawnee Prophet, supposedly put a curse on Harrison following the attack.

The story goes that the curse said that Harrison would die while he was the leader of his people. Okay, that happened. Of course, after the fact, it's easy to say that something happened because of a curse. However, the curse continues, and here's where things vary depending on the source, but it basically said that any president elected in years ending in zero will also die in office. So basically, every 20 years, or so.

Now, I'm not sure where you've called bullshit, but here's what just doesn't add up to me.

This seems like an awfully specific curse. Okay, it's one thing to curse the general who ransacked your village. But to curse him so that he'd die some unspecified time in the future — in this case, 30 years later? And then to curse future leaders in a set pattern? Why not curse every future leader to die? Or put a curse on the general keeping him and his people from advancing on Shawnee land?

See, things don't add up... except, the "curse" kind of existed for 120 years

William Henry Harrison
Elected 1840
Died 1841

We got into his death earlier this week. If you'd like an amusing, but not all that accurate retelling of his death, here you go.

Abraham Lincoln
Elected 1860
Died 1865

Following the end of the Civil War, Lincoln was assassinated by John Wilkes Booth, a Confederate sympathizer. Again, if you'd like an amusing, but not all that accurate retelling of his death, jump to about 0:27.

James A. Garfield
Elected 1880
Died 1881 

Garfield was shot by Charles Guiteau, who believed that Garfield owed him an ambassadorship despite the fact that he was nowhere near qualified. No one has made a funny video about the Garfield assassination. Yet.

William McKinley
Re-elected 1900
Died 1901

McKinley was assassinated by anarchist Leon Czolgosz at the Pan-American Exposition. Czolgosz had hoped the move would get him in good with the anarchist movement, but they pretty much denounced that sort of thing.

Warren G. Harding 
Elected 1920
Died 1923

Harding died during a cross-country trip. Some theories say that his wife killed him to save him the embarrassment from the number of scandals brewing from his administration, but it may have been just that the hard-drinking president in already poor health didn't take to well to extended trips on a non-air conditioned train during the summer.

Franklin D. Roosevelt
Re-elected 1940
Died 1945
While running for his fourth presidential term in 1944, a doctor said he doubted FDR would live six months. In April 1945, FDR suffered a fatal stroke, but there's no record of how much that doctor won in that pool.

John F. Kennedy
Elected 1960
Died 1963

JFK was assassinated during a motorcade in Dallas. They want you to believe it was Lee Harvey Oswald who shot the president. It was probably the FBI, the CIA and LBJ. Though we have absolutely no proof of this, we would love to give a long, uninformed rant explaining our detailed yet unfounded theory on the subject.

Ronald Reagan
Elected 1980
Shot 1981
Reagan survived an assassination attempt from John Hinkley Jr. Did this break the supposed curse?

George W. Bush was elected in 2000 and he survived his entire eight-year term. So, maybe?
Bush has a message to the Curse of Tippecanoe
In 2005, Sarah Vowell was touring to promote her latest book, Assassination Vacation, in which she researched the assassinations of Lincoln, Garfield and McKinley. Given the huge crush I had/have on her, I went to see her at the Philadelphia library. While she made herself available for autographs, I knew that she doesn't really enjoy giving them. Not that she's against it, she just doesn't understand why someone would want her autograph. This, however, didn't stop me.

While she was signing my book — which obviously didn't take very long — I nervously asked her her thoughts about this curse. I figured she just wrote a book about three of these deaths, she must have something to say about it. She gave a very short answer, "Oh, well Bush is safe, because you actually have to be elected in a year ending in zero."

At the time, I was a bit disappointed by her terse, almost disinterested, answer and regretted not waiting for the Q&A session during the talk, as she seemed more spirited when she didn't have to have one-on-one conversations with complete strangers (and I really can't blame her, either). Years later, I'd have to say, good dig at Dubya, Sarah.

I guess we'll see how this curse shakes out after the Election of 2020.

In the meantime, you can show your support for the guy who first fell victim of this supposed curse or the guy who was able to avoid it here.


  1. Isn't Taylor included in this curse?

  2. He was elected in 1848. So... no.

  3. ahh. My bad. You're such a smartie Tony.

  4. Seriously, he's worse than me sometimes.

  5. Hey! You happened to list every president who has died in office (except Reagan and Bush). I thought maybe you might have missed Zack....or something. I dunno, I was just flexing my limited Presidential knowledge...or I guess, lack thereof. But be nice Doug, after all I bought a shirt! :)

  6. No worries, Tim. That was meant against Tony, not you.
    Sometimes, Tony is worse than me.

  7. Only sometimes? I need to step up my game...