Skip to main content

The Curse of Tecumseh

Image result for tecumseh
Shawnee Chief Tecumseh, who started it all.  Maybe.





According to legend, presidents elected during years ending in zero will die in office.  This did happen to a long string of American presidents who were elected in zero years, so it was widely attributed to the Curse of Tecumseh.  This Curse has its roots in the Battle of Tippecanoe, which took place in Indiana in 1811.  American forces were led by General William Henry Harrison, who were victorious over the Shawnee people and their allies in the war.  The allied peoples rallied together to stop American westward expansion following a shady treaty that Harrison had negotiated with Tecumseh, the leader of the Shawnee, before the war.

Following the defeat, legend has it that Tecumseh’s brother, popularly known as The Prophet, put a curse on Harrison and all other presidents elected in years ending with the same digit as he was.  This seems unlikely, since the war ended in 1811, and Harrison wasn’t elected president until 1840, so how would The Prophet know?  Moreover, Harrison put his own health at risk, it’s fair to say.  He was 67 during the election of 1840, which made a lot of people nervous about his health.  Very much aware of the public’s anxiety over his stamina, Harrison rode on a horse during his inauguration parade, not wearing a coat, even though it was a very cold day.  He then proceeded to give the longest inaugural speech to date, speaking from a podium for over an hour to a large crowd.  Since the microphone hadn’t been invented yet, giving a speech that could be heard by a crowd of that size made great physical demands on him.  He then made a point of dancing all night at his inaugural ball.  The next morning, March 5, he woke up with pneumonia, and died 32 days later—the first president to die in office.

Following that, there was a pattern.  Abraham Lincoln was elected in 1860, and was assassinated while in office.  James Garfield was elected in 1880, and was assassinated while in office.  William McKinley was reelected in 1900, and was assassinated while in office.  Warren Harding was elected in 1920, and died of a stroke while in office.  Franklin Roosevelt was reelected in 1940, and died of a cerebral hemorrhage while in office.  John F. Kennedy was elected in 1960, and was assassinated while in office.  By 1980, there was a lot of talk among the superstitious about how the winner of that election would surely die in office.  As it happened, Ronald Reagan, who won that year, was shot in 1981, but survived.  He wasn’t the first president to survive being shot, either, so it looked like the Curse of Tecumseh didn’t apply anymore.  Sure enough, after George W. Bush took office in 2000, he survived to the end of his term.  By then, you didn’t hear much talk about the Curse.  Anecdotally, I can tell you I knew a guy who told me he voted for Bush in 2000 because he really wanted Vice President Cheney to be president, and was counting on the Curse coming true!

Will it happen again in 2020?  Probably not.  But you can count on the subject coming up again in the next presidential election.  That’s one prediction I’m comfortable making.

Comments

Popular posts from this blog

Betty Crocker: A Brief Biography

Long have our supermarket shelves borne products with the name Betty Crocker.  This name has long since lodged in our heads an essential part of americana.  It seems to evoke the past.  It seems to always have evoked the past, a past when life was simpler and Mother and Grandmother cooked at home, using time tested recipes and only the purest ingredients.  We can’t go back to that simpler, wholesome past, but we can give ourselves a Proustian shot of nostalgia by tasting the past we remember, or the past we only wish we could remember, but know must be so good.  That is the Betty Crocker brand.  You might have seen drawings of her, but have you ever actually seen the legend herself?  Here’s an image of Miss Crocker from a 1953 television ad:


The full "Betty Crocker" TV commercial.

Okay, that’s actually actress Adelaide Hawley, who played Betty Crocker in a number of commercials for the brand from 1949 to 1964.  Betty Crocker was born in 1921, so this representation looks to be…

At, Hashtag, And Per Se

Since the invention of the typewriter in the 1860s, there has been little change to the keyboard used in English.  The position of the letters has remained the same, and the numbers and punctuation have as well. The advent of the personal computer has required additional keys, most of which have found their own standard spots on the keyboard, but for the most part, there haven’t been many changes to the original design.

If you look at the above keyboard, you can see there have been some changes. Keys for fractions don’t really exist anymore; nor does a key to write the ¢ symbol. But the ¢ key on this 1900 model typewriter also includes the @ symbol, which has been common on keyboards since the dawn of typewriters. It’s older than that, even. But of course it is: how else would anyone write an email address? Except… who are you going to email in 1900? No one was emailing anyone before 1972. That’s when programmer Ray Tomlinson invented email. He figured that if you’re going to …

Kick the Football, Charlie Brown

For nearly the entire run of Charles Schulz's Peanuts comic strip, one running gag has been the football gag.  The gag is simple: Lucy Van Pelt kneels down on the grass, holding a football in place, and tells Charlie Brown to kick it.  Charlie Brown gets a good running start, ready to give it a good, solid kick, but at the last minute, Lucy pulls it away.  The final panel usually has a miserable Charlie Brown laying on the ground while Lucy looks over him, holding the football, telling him in one way or another that he obviously shouldn't have trusted her.
The gag first appeared on November 14, 1951, when the strip was just over a year old.  In the first occurrence, the football was not held by Lucy but by Violet Gray, another little girl in Charlie Brown’s neighborhood.  (Violet would later become a minor character in the strip, and Lucy would become a major one.Lucy wouldn’t appear in the strip until the following year.)  The first football gag is quite a bit different from w…