The Curse of Tippecanoe for the US presidents


Vijaya Laxmi Tripura

There has been a mystery centering US president elected in years that are evenly divisible by ‘20’. The Curse of Tippecanoe, which is also known as Tecumseh’s Curse or the 20 Year President Curse is supposed pattern of death in office of presidents of the United States elected in years that are evenly divisible by 20 since the 1840 election.

Because of the timing of presidential elections, these are also those taking place in years ending with 0. The presidents fitting this description were William Henry Harrison (elected in 1840), Abraham Lincoln (1860), James A. Garfield (1880), William McKinley (1900), Warren G. Harding (1920), Franklin D. Roosevelt (1940) and John F. Kennedy (1960).

Ronald Reagan (1980) was seriously wounded by gunshot, but survived more than 15 years after his second term. George W. Bush (2000) survived his terms in office, despite an assassination attempt. Thomas Jefferson (1800) and James Monroe (1820) preceded the supposed curse, and outlived their presidencies by 17 and 6 years, respectively.

With the past track record of the presidents falling under the curse of Tecumseh, it is anticipated by many that the winner of the 2020 election would be next in line to this purported curse.

The major national news outlets announced on November 7, 2020 that they projected Joe Biden as the 2020 winner, and thus he would take office on January 20, 2021.

William Henry Harrison was elected president in 1840 and died in 1841, just a month after being sworn in. Ripley’s Believe It or Not! noted a pattern in 1931 and again in 1948, claiming that a president elected in a year ending in zero would die in office. They termed it the “Curse of Tippecanoe”, a reference to nickname for Harrison referencing his commanding role as governor of the Indiana Territory in the 1811 Battle of Tippecanoe.

The battle was part of Tecumseh’s War, in which Shawnee leader Tecumseh and his younger brother Tenskwatawa organized a confederation of Indian tribes to resist the westward expansion of the United States. In a battle near the Tippecanoe River, Tenskwatawa and his troops were defeated by troops commanded by Harrison.

Strange as it Seems by John Hix ran a cartoon prior to the election of 1940 titled “Curse over the White House!” and claimed that “In the last 100 years, Every U.S. President Elected at 20-Year Intervals Has Died In Office!”

In February 1960, journalist Ed Koterba noted that “The next President of the United States will face an eerie curse that for more than a century has hung over every chief executive elected in a year ending with zero.”

The first written account to refer to the source of the curse was an article by Lloyd Shearer in 1980 in Parade magazine. It is claimed that when Tecumseh was killed in a later battle, Tenskwatawa set a curse against Harrison.

Running for re-election in 1980, President Jimmy Carter was asked about the curse at a campaign stop in Dayton, Ohio on October 2 of that year while taking questions from the crowd. A high school student asked Carter if he was concerned about “predictions that every 20 years or election years ending in zero, the President dies in office.” Carter replied, “I’ve seen those predictions. […] 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 till the last day I could.”

But the “curse” seems to have ended as 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 him being seriously wounded in an assassination attempt within months of his 1981 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 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. However, the Reagans’ son Ron revealed in his memoir that President Reagan began showing symptoms of Alzheimer’s disease as early as three years into his first term as president. Reagan left office on January 20, 1989, and ultimately died of pneumonia complicated by the Alzheimer’s on June 5, 2004, at the age of 93.

The president elected in 2000, George W. Bush, also survived two terms in office, which included 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. He completed his final term in office on January 20, 2009.

Of the eight US presidents to have died in office, Zachary Taylor was elected in 1848, not in a year divisible by 20.

Furthermore, many US presidents not falling into the pattern of years divisible by 20 have faced assassination threats, plots, or attempts.


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