Friday, March 30, 2012

Curse of Tippecanoe

President Barack Obama

Today, March 30, 2012, the President of the United States will be in my town of Portland, Maine. He is greeting a large crowd at the Southern Maine College College, and having a fundraising dinner at the Portland Museum of Art. I won't be able to see him, but I wish him well. My best goes out to him, and to the men and women of the United States Secret Service who have the job of protecting President Barack Obama today. Their service to our country, mostly under the radar, is great.

March 30th

On March 30, 1979, Airey Neave, a British Member of Parliament, was killed by a car bomb as he exited the Palace of Westminster. The Irish National Liberation Army claimed responsibility. 

This date is also the anniversary in 1981, of the wounding of President Ronald Reagan.  

On Thursday, March 30, 2006, at around 21:45, a Palestinian suicide bomber, disguised as an Orthodox Jewish hitchhiker and wearing hidden explosives attached to his body, boarded an Israeli vehicle. The suicide bomber blew himself up near the entrance to the Israeli settlement Kedumim near the gas station outside of the village. The blast killed four Israeli (three inside the car and another person who was near the vehicle). 

I would expect awareness among law enforcement personnel would be heightened on a day like today. Copycats and behavior contagion are a problem, and protection agencies must realize that.

Assassination Attempt Against Ronald Reagan

On March 21, 1981, Ronald Reagan, the new President of the United States, visited Ford's Theatre in Washington, D.C. with his wife Nancy for a fundraising event. He recalled, "I looked up at the presidential box above the stage where Abe Lincoln had been sitting the night he was shot and felt a curious sensation... I thought that even with all the Secret Service protection we now had, it was probably still possible for someone who had enough determination to get close enough to a president to shoot him."

The Reagan assassination attempt occurred on Monday, March 30, 1981, just 69 days into the presidency of Ronald Reagan. While leaving a speaking engagement at the Washington Hilton Hotel in Washington, D.C., President Reagan and three others were shot and wounded by John Hinckley, Jr.

Curse of Tippecanoe

The name Curse of Tippecanoe (also known as Tecumseh's Curse, the Presidential Curse, Zero-Year Curse, the Twenty-Year Curse, or the Twenty-Year Presidential Jinx) is used to describe the regular death in office of presidents elected in years divisible by twenty, from William Henry Harrison (elected in 1840) through John Kennedy (1960). Ronald Reagan, elected in 1980, was shot and survived; George Walker Bush (2000) survived an attempt on his life unharmed.

The curse, first widely noted in a Ripley's Believe It or Not book published in 1931, began with the death of William Henry Harrison, who died in 1841 after having been elected in 1840. For the next 120 years, presidents elected during years ending in a zero (occurring every 20 years) ultimately died while serving in office, from Harrison to John F. Kennedy (elected 1960, died 1963).

The name "Curse of Tippecanoe" derives from the 1811 battle. As governor of the Indiana Territory, William Harrison used questionable tactics in the negotiation of the 1809 Treaty of Fort Wayne with Native Americans, in which they ceded large tracts of land to the U.S. government. The treaty further angered the Shawnee leader Tecumseh (shown above), and brought government soldiers and Native Americans to the brink of war in a period known as Tecumseh's War. Tecumseh and his brother organized a group of Indian tribes designed to resist the westward expansion of the United States. In 1811, Tecumseh's forces, led by his brother, attacked Harrison's army in the Battle of Tippecanoe, earning Harrison fame and the nickname "Old Tippecanoe." Harrison strengthened his reputation even more by defeating the British at the Battle of the Thames during the War of 1812. In a fictional account of the aftermath of the battle, Tecumseh's brother Tenskwatawa, known as the Prophet, supposedly set a curse against Harrison and future White House occupants who became president during years with the same end number as Harrison. This fictional account is the basis of the curse legend.

After the observation by Ripley, talk of the curse resurfaced as the next cursed election year approached. A similar oddities cartoon feature, Strange as it Seems by John Hix, appeared prior to Election Day 1940, with "CURSE OVER THE WHITE HOUSE!" A list, running from "1840 - Harrison" to "1920 - Harding" was followed by the ominous "1940 - ??????" and the note that "In the last 100 years, Every U.S. President Elected at 20-Year Intervals Has Died In Office!" Ed Koterba, author of a syndicated column called Assignment Washington, referred to the subject again in 1960.

As 1980 approached, the curse was sufficiently well-known, and Americans wondered whether the winner of that election would follow the pattern. The Library of Congress conducted a study in the summer of 1980 about the origin of the tale, and concluded that "although the story has been well-known for years, there are no documented sources and no published mentions of it". Running for re-election in 1980, President Jimmy Carter was asked about the curse at a campaign stop in Dayton on October 2 of that year. Taking questions from the crowd, Carter replied, "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, for the last day I could."

The Curse Misfires

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 inauguration. 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. Reagan, the oldest man to be elected President, also survived treatment for colon cancer while in office. He left office on January 20, 1989, and ultimately died of Alzheimer's Disease on June 5, 2004, at the age of 93.

Reagan's would-be assassin, John Hinckley, Jr., was found by a jury to be insane, but there was no evidence that he was motivated by a belief in the curse. Moreover, every president from Richard Nixon to George W. Bush faced at least one assassination attempt.

Like the presidents who had died in office, Reagan was succeeded in office by his vice president, George H. W. Bush, which was historically unusual given that Bush was the first incumbent vice president in 152 years to assume the presidency by direct election. The last incumbent vice president to win election had been Martin Van Buren, William Henry Harrison's immediate predecessor in office.

The next president in the line of the curse, George W. Bush in 2000, was unharmed in an assassination attempt in 2005 and finished out his final term on January 20, 2009.

The only president who died in office without being elected in a "cursed" year was Zachary Taylor, who was elected in 1848 and died in 1850.

Fayette Factor, Nevertheless
The Battle of Tippecanoe was fought on November 7, 1811, near present-day Lafayette, Indiana between United States forces led by Governor William Henry Harrison of the Indiana Territory and Native American warriors associated with the Shawnee leader Tecumseh. Tecumseh and his brother Tenskwatawa (popularly known as "The Prophet") were leaders of a confederacy of Native Americans from various tribes that opposed US expansion into Native territory. As tensions and violence increased, Governor Harrison marched with an army of about 1,000 men to disperse the confederacy's headquarters at Prophetstown, near the confluence of the Tippecanoe and Wabash Rivers. Due to the links to Lafayette, Indiana, William Henry Harrison's beginning of the “20 year presidential death curse,” and the involvement of Tecumseh/Tenskwatawa, this date and site have much to do with the “Fayette Factor.” 

See also

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

The thing that stands out for me about those pictures is the presence of the umbrella. It reminds me of umbrella man in the JFK assasination.

It's the only one there that I can see?