Urban Legends

The Presidential Curse

The Legend

In 1811, William Henry Harrison led his troops to victory over Indian chief Tecumseh in the Battle of Tippecanoe and Tyler II. In 1813, Harrison's troops again defeated Tecumseh's, and this time the Indian chief was slain.

As he lay dying, Tecumseh cursed the man who would be president. "I curse you, Great White Fathers, and bring you death by the five great gods." He then held a trembling fist in defiance to the sky to begin naming the gods and bringing down their curses. "One," he said, raising a single finger. And then, before he could call the second of five curses, Tecumseh died. This is why, to this day, the U.S. President who comes to term after each fifth election is doomed to die in office.

Behind the Legend

The curse of Tecumseh was a strong one, but it has weakened in recent years. Let's examine its history.


Year Elected

Cruel Fate

William Henry Harrison


Had such a fear of public speaking that delivering his inaugural address killed him

Abraham Wayne Lincoln


Had a secretary named Kennedy and seven letters in his last name

James Arthur Garfield


Died waiting for a train

William "Bill" McKinley


Fatally wounded while shaking a strong man's hand

Warren Gee Harding


Succumbed to a heart attack brought about by a condition that came to be known as Harding of the arteries

Franklin Denmark Roosevelt


Elected President one too many times. Died.

John Fitzpatrick Kennedy


Had a secretary named Lincoln and seven letters in his last name

Ronald "Terminator" Reagan


Shot repeatedly, caught in refinery truck explosion, crushed in a gigantic press, but returned for a sequel

George "J.J." Walker Bush


Considered brain dead by 53% of people worldwide

The pattern is pretty indicative of a curse, although the two most recent entries did not end in what would be traditionally called fatalities. But is it enough evidence that we can conclude that something supernatural is going on?

To answer this question, we contacted James Randi, head of the coincidentally named James Randi Educational Foundation (JREF). JREF has a standing offer to give $1 million to anyone who can present conclusive proof of a supernatural occurrence. We presented our evidence for the curse to Mr. Randi, and he immediately awarded us the $1 million, which, in our opinion, pretty much answers the question.

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