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Tecumseh's Curse

Posted by Josh Rothman  January 20, 2011 08:00 AM

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This article in the Fortean Times (a magazine devoted to "the world of strange phenomena") is almost certainly complete hokum - but boy is it entertaining! It all starts in 1808, when future-present William H. Harrison, at the time the first governor of the Indian Territories, burned down the village of the Shawnee leader Tecumseh. As Nick Parkins tells it, "the wrathful chieftain now uttered a dire prophetic forewarning":

Harrison will not win this year to be the Great Chief. But he may win next year. If he does... he will not finish his term. He will die in his office. You think that I have lost my powers. I who caused the Sun to darken and Red Men to give up firewater.... I tell you Harrison will die. And after him every Great Chief chosen every 20 years thereafter will die. And when each one dies, let everyone remember the death of our people.

Harrison was elected Great Chief of the United States in 1840; in 1841, after giving the longest inaugural address in American history in a snowstorm, he died of pneumonia. Next to die in office were Presidents Lincoln (elected 1860), Garfield (elected 1880), McKinley (elected 1900), Harding (elected 1920), Roosevelt (elected 1940), and Kennedy (elected 1960). Lincoln, Garfield, McKinley, and Kennedy were assassinated - only Harding and Roosevelt died of natural causes. "From the onset of Harrison’s reign in 1840," Parkins writes, "no president elected in a year ending in ‘0’ would leave the White House alive."

What happened after 1960? Ronald Reagan (elected 1980) dodged a bullet in 1981. George W. Bush (elected 2000) successfully escaped the curse. "Was it down to the ‘stolen’ election?" Parkins wonders? "Is the inconvenient truth for Al Gore that he owes his life to his Republican rival?"

Kids: if you stumble across this post while writing a school report, please note: it is definitely not true.

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About brainiac Brainiac is the daily blog of the Globe's Sunday Ideas section, covering news and delights from the worlds of art, science, literature, history, design, and more. You can follow us on Twitter @GlobeIdeas.
Brainiac blogger Kevin Hartnett is a writer in Columbia, South Carolina. He can be reached here.

Leon Neyfakh is the staff writer for Ideas. Amanda Katz is the deputy Ideas editor. Stephen Heuser is the Ideas editor.

Guest blogger Simon Waxman is Managing Editor of Boston Review and has written for WBUR, Alternet, McSweeney's, Jacobin, and others.

Guest blogger Elizabeth Manus is a writer living in New York City. She has been a book review editor at the Boston Phoenix, and a columnist for The New York Observer and Metro.

Guest blogger Sarah Laskow is a freelance writer and editor in New York City. She edits Smithsonian's SmartNews blog and has contributed to Salon, Good, The American Prospect, Bloomberg News, and other publications.

Guest blogger Joshua Glenn is a Boston-based writer, publisher, and freelance semiotician. He was the original Brainiac blogger, and is currently editor of the blog HiLobrow, publisher of a series of Radium Age science fiction novels, and co-author/co-editor of several books, including the story collection "Significant Objects" and the kids' field guide to life "Unbored."

Guest blogger Ruth Graham is a freelance journalist in New Hampshire, and a frequent Ideas contributor. She is a former features editor for the New York Sun, and has written for publications including Slate and the Wall Street Journal.

Joshua Rothman is a graduate student and Teaching Fellow in the Harvard English department, and an Instructor in Public Policy at the Harvard Kennedy School of Government. He teaches novels and political writing.


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