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A White House Curse?

Learn what some called the presidential "20-year curse."

  • Grades: 3–5, 6–8, 9–12

Beginning in 1840 and extending for well over a century, every President elected in a year ending in a zero died in office. This strange twist of fate was called the "20-year curse" because it occurred every twenty years.

Consider:

  • William Henry Harrison, elected in 1840. Harrison caught a cold at his inauguration and died of pneumonia a month later.
  • Abraham Lincoln, elected in 1860, and reelected four years later. Lincoln was assassinated on April 14, 1865.
  • James A. Garfield, elected in 1880. Garfield was shot on July 2, 1881, and three months later died of blood poisoning.
  • William McKinley, elected in 1900. McKinley was shot on September 6, 1901, and died a week later.
  • Warren G. Harding, elected in 1920. Harding died of a heart attack approximately 2 1/2 years after taking office.
  • Franklin D. Roosevelt, elected in 1940 for a third term. Roosevelt died of natural causes on April 12, 1945, less than four months after taking the oath of office for a fourth term.
  • John F. Kennedy, elected in 1960. Kennedy was assassinated on November 22, 1963.
  • Ronald Reagan, elected in 1980, loomed as the next victim of the curse. About two months after taking office, Reagan was shot and wounded by John F. Hinckley. But quick and expert medical attention saved the President's life. Reagan's survival was said to have broken the curse.

 

Adapted from Facts and Fun About the Presidents by George Sullivan. (Copyright 1987. Published by Scholastic.)

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