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Why did the USA believe that the presidents elected in the 'zero years' will face misfortune

It happened on October 2, 1980. The US was the height of the election campaign, in which US President Jimmy Carter confronted the ambitious Republican candidate Ronald Reagan, says Air force... During one of Carter's stops in Dayton, Ohio, school students were able to ask the president a question.

Photo: Shutterstock

“There were predictions that (elected - Ed.) Every 20 years or in election years ending in zero, the president dies in office. Does it bother you? " One of the students asked.

“I've seen these predictions. Even if I knew that I would die in office, if I were president, I would still fight for this position, because I think this is the most amazing, challenging and important position in the entire free world, ”the US President replied.

What are we talking about?

“Curse of presidents”, “curse of zero year”, “curse of Tecumse”, “curse of Tippecano”. These are all names for the “legend” that the US president elected in a year ending in zero will die or be killed in office.

At the time when a schoolboy in Dayton raised the question to Carter, this legend was gaining popularity in the United States. Indeed, at that time, of the seven presidents who had been elected to office in year zero since 1840, none could live to the end of their term, and the assassination of one of them, President Kennedy, shocked the country.

Where did this legend come from, why did some Americans believe in it, and historians consider it to be fiction?

Tekumseh and the "Prophet"

This story began at the end of the XNUMXth century, when white Americans were expanding into the land of Indian tribes in the territory of the modern states of Ohio and Indiana.

After losing the battle in 1795, Indian leaders had to sign a treaty according to which a number of lands in the region were ceded to the United States. On them the territory of Indiana arose, the governor of which was the future US President William Harrison in 1800.

Among the chiefs who refused to sign that treaty was one of the leaders of the Tekumse Shawnee tribe. He dreamed of creating an independent territory for Indian tribes. Tekumse appealed to the leaders of other tribes to stop selling lands to the colonists, which, in his opinion, belonged to all Indians, and not to a particular tribe.

Tekumse's brother, Tenskwatawa, was named “the Prophet” after he predicted a solar eclipse in 1806 and promised a supernatural victory over the white conquerors. Tenskwatawa became a religious leader, to whom thousands of people went, and persecuted leaders who collaborated with the US authorities. The brothers founded the "City of the Prophet", where thousands of their followers gathered, and created a confederation of tribes that did not want to give the lands of their ancestors to the colonists.

Tekumseh tried in vain to persuade Governor Harrison to break the chiefs' land purchase contracts, which he considered unfair. The war was inevitable.

“Let the whites die. They seized our lands, corrupted our women, trampled the ashes of our dead. It is necessary to drive them back by a bloody path - to where they came from, ”he declared to his soldiers in 1811.

In the same year, taking advantage of the absence of Tekumseh, Garrison set out on a campaign in the "city of the Prophet." The "prophet" Tenxwatawa, who led the Indians and promised them an easy victory, lost to the Americans at the Battle of the Tippecano River. The Indians left the "city of the Prophet" and the troops destroyed it.

This defeat demoralized the Indians, and Tenxwatava lost their confidence and went into exile. Harrison was nicknamed "Tippecano" in honor of the victory in the battle.

However, Tekumse kept his followers and continued the fight against the Americans. When in 1812 the United States declared war on Great Britain and launched an offensive against Canada, Tekumseh fought on the side of the British forces. Tekumseh was killed in 1813 in a battle against Harrison's forces near the River Thames in what is now Canada. The confederation of tribes that he was gathering ceased to exist.

Contemporaries sang Tekumse in novels and poetry. For the Americans of the time, he was a noble enemy, a model of courage and humanity, a man of a code of honor that did not allow reprisals against prisoners. For Canadians, he generally became one of the national heroes.

Already in the twentieth century, the tabloid press actively began to spread the legend that after the death of his brother, Tenxwatawa supposedly assumed that Garrison would become the president of the United States and imposed a curse on him, according to which every US president elected in a year ending in zero would die in office.

In fact, the unexpected deaths of several presidents preceded the emergence of this legend. She turned out to be the most "romantic" against the background of those rumors and conspiracy theories that appeared after the death of each of them. We will tell you how it happened.

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The Invisible Enemy

After defeating the Indians, William Garrison was a longtime Congressman and Senator from Ohio. In 1840, that is, in the "zero year", he won the presidential elections, bypassing Tekumse and his Confederation.

At the time, 68-year-old Harrison was the oldest US president in history, and some newspapers openly called him grandfather. On March 4, 1841, at his inauguration, he gave a speech that lasted nearly two hours and remains the longest inaugural speech in US history. It was cold, but the president did not put on his coat and hat to demonstrate his good health. And he caught a cold.

The next few weeks of work were intense. Overwork and another cold threw Garrison to bed at the end of March. On April 4, 1841, he became the first American president to die in office. Harrison was the smallest president in US history - just 30 days.

Assassinations: Lincoln, Garfield, McKinley

In the next 60 years after Harrison's death, three presidents were killed in the United States - and they were elected in the "zero years".

The event that changed the history of the country was the Civil War of 1861-1865 between the southern states, which wanted to maintain slavery and united into the Confederation, and the northern states, which supported the incumbent President Abraham Lincoln, an opponent of slavery. The war lasted over 4 years and claimed up to a million lives.

In April 1865, the Confederation capitulated, but President Lincoln did not have time to rejoice in the victory - on April 14, 1865, he became the victim of an assassination attempt. Lincoln's killer was the 26-year-old actor John Wilkes Booth. On the eve of 1864, Booth had the idea to kidnap President Lincoln and transport him to Confederate territory to exchange for captured soldiers and disorganize the government. However, they did not manage to realize this intention.

After the surrender of the Confederate army in April 1865, Booth decided to personally assassinate the president. The assassination attempt took place in the theater box. Booth knew by heart the play that was being played in the theater, so he waited for a funny moment in it, when the whole audience laughed, burst into the box and shot the US President from behind in the head.

Then he stabbed Major Henry Rathbone, who was with the bride in the box with Lincoln and the first lady, and jumped onto the stage with the words: "This is revenge for the South" and fled from the theater. On the same day, Booth's associates were supposed to kill Vice President Johnson and Secretary of State Seward, but the participant in the assassination attempt on the Vice President did not have enough nerves and he got drunk in a bar, and the Secretary of State was saved by his children.

Lincoln's killer was found in a barn in Virginia 12 days after the assassination attempt, and Boston Army Sergeant Corbett shot Booth despite orders to be taken alive. He later said that "providence" was in charge of him at the moment.

Abraham Lincoln was the first US president to be assassinated.

The ease with which one man managed to kill the President of the United States has given rise to a number of conspiracy theories about treason within the Lincoln administration. But then there was no talk of the curse of the Indian leader, contemporaries believed more in the powerful allies of the slave owners who killed the presidents inconvenient for them.

In 1881, the 20th President of the United States, James Garfield, was assassinated. Garfield, like Lincoln, was a member of the Republican Party and a staunch opponent of slavery. His biography, to a certain extent, resembles the embodiment of the American dream. The boy from a poor family grew up without a father, and the contempt that his peers showed for him motivated him to study hard. As a student, he began teaching at an institute in Ohio (now Hiram College), and at the age of 26 he became its president.

After the assassination of Lincoln, Garfield became one of the leading Republican leaders in the US Congress, and in 1880 won the presidential election as a compromise candidate from the party. He did not have time to implement any reforms. On July 2, 1881, a revolver was fired at the President of the United States at a railway station in Washington. The assassination attempt was carried out by lawyer Charles Guito. He was an ardent supporter of the Republican Party and convinced himself that the President of the United States threatened its unity and future.

The last 79 days of Garfield's life were filled with suffering - doctors tried to find a bullet that was stuck in his spine, and used tools and fingers for this that did not disinfect. An infection got into the body, purulent processes began, and in September 1881 Garfield died of sepsis and pneumonia.

20 years after Garfield, the 25th President of the United States, William McKinley, became a victim of the assassination attempt. He became president in 1897 and was re-elected in 1900. Within the United States, it was a period of industrialization, the formation of trade unions, which demanded shorter working hours and higher wages. Anarchism and socialism grew in popularity among the workers, and strikes and demonstrations sometimes ended in clashes, the death of strikers or police officers.

President McKinley believed he was leading the country to prosperity and believed he had no American enemies. When he arrived at the opening of the Pan American Exhibition in Buffalo on September 6, 1901, a crowd formed to shake his hand.

28-year-old anarchist Leon Cholgosh, the son of a migrant from Eastern Europe, came close to the US president, covering the weapon in his hand with a handkerchief and firing twice, one of the bullets hitting the president in the stomach. Due to an infection of the wound, he died on September 14, on the 8th day after the assassination attempt. The killer McKinley was electrocuted.

In 1902, for the first time, the President of the United States was given a permanent guard - two agents of the Secret Service, which at that time was subordinate to the Department of Finance and fought against money counterfeiting.

The emergence of the story of the curse

The next two presidents elected in Year Zero, Warren Harding (1921-1923) and Franklin Delano Roosevelt (1933-1945), also died in office.

After traveling to Alaska in the summer of 1923, Harding, who had previously suffered from health problems, fell ill and died. Immediately after his death, the press began to accuse Harding's doctors of incompetence, and some media outlets even of conspiracy to kill him. The first lady did not give doctors permission to open her husband's body. A former Justice Department official later accused her of poisoning the president, but this theory was exposed as false. Most likely, the president did not survive myocardial infarction.

Harding's death did not pass the attention of the press, which needed something to interest the audience. So in 1931, the newspaper Ripley's Believe It or Not! Dedicated to strange facts and events! (“Believe it or not”) first spread the story of the White House curse. The publication drew attention to the coincidence in the deaths of several presidents elected in year zero.

In 1945, President Franklin Delano Roosevelt died in office of a stroke, and Ripley's Believe It or Not! recalled the "curse" again in a 1948 publication. On the eve of the 1960 elections, renowned journalist Ed Koterba wrote: "The next US president will face an eerie curse that has hung over every chief executive elected in the zero-ending year for over a century."

The winner of that election, John F. Kennedy, was assassinated on November 22, 1963 in Dallas. Discussions on this murder have continued to this day.

According to the official version, the murder was committed by a lone killer. However, according to a Gallup poll, in 2013, 61% of Americans believed that the Kennedy assassination was organized by a group of persons in a preliminary conspiracy, and only 30% believed in the official version.

40% of those who believed in the collusion could not clearly answer who participated in it. But 13% named the mafia, 13% - representatives of the federal government, 7% - the CIA, 5% - Fidel Castro, 5% - certain groups of opponents of the president. Ku Klux Klan, the USSR and Vice President Lyndon Johnson received 3% each.

Already on the day of the murder, a suspect was arrested - a former Marine Corps soldier Lee Harvey Oswald, who was a supporter of leftist ideas and lived for three years in the USSR, where he worked at a plant in Minsk. Two days after Oswald's arrest, the owner of a nightclub in Dallas, Jack Ruby, who was associated with the mafia, was killed in front of journalists. The murder took place in the basement of the police station while being transferred to prison. Jack Ruby died 1967 of cancer in prison.

In 1964, the Warren Commission of Inquiry ruled that Oswald had killed the president without accomplices. Many Americans didn't immediately believe it. In 1992, Congress decided to declassify most of the 5 million documents on the Kennedy assassination. Another 2800 documents were declassified in 2017. The documents confirmed this version.

Jefferson Morley, a former Washington Post reporter who blogs JFK Facts, told the BBC in a 2017 commentary that he did not trust the official story.

“Officially the story is this - there was a guy, Oswald, about whom no one knew anything. He suddenly appeared out of nowhere and shot the president. This well-known story is undoubtedly wrong, ”he says.

Associate professor at Boston University Thomas Walen is of a different opinion.

“Not only me, but in general, most historians believe that he (Oswald - Ed.) Was a murderer. The question is whether he was involved in any larger conspiracy, ”the scientist notes.

Reagan, Taxi Driver and Passion for Jodie Foster

On the eve of the 1980 presidential election, in which incumbent President Jimmy Carter and Republican Ronald Reagan competed, the “year zero” curse became part of the country's political life thanks to the “yellow press”.

Parade columnist Lloyd Shearer mentioned in his article about the struggle of President William Harrison, “the first victim of the curse,” with the Indian tribes, and that after defeat in battle, one of the Indian leaders allegedly cursed the US presidents elected in year zero. This is how the legend acquired a modern look.

That same fall, President Jimmy Carter was asked about the curse by one of the students of the school where he spoke.

But in 1980 the Americans chose not him, but Ronald Reagan. An icon of the right, he could expect an assassination attempt from ideological opponents or hostile states. Well, history can surprise.

In 1976, Texas student John Hinckley Jr. saw the cult film Taxi Driver by Martin Scorsese, starring Robert De Niro and Jodie Foster.

In the film, De Niro plays Vietnam War veteran Travis Bickley, a taxi driver and sick of American realities. He tries to cleanse the city of "dirt", buys up weapons, and also wants to kill the hated presidential candidate. By chance, Bickley meets an underage sex worker, played by Jodie Foster, and tries to save her life from decline. He shoots her pimp and his accomplices. Wounded during the shooting, Travis Bickley falls into a coma, and wakes up as a hero in the front pages.

John Hinckley Jr watched the film 15 more times. He began to imitate Bickley's hero - trying to dress like him, practicing shooting and trying to establish contact with Jodie Foster. When the actress became a student at Yale University, a fan shoved love letters and poems under her door at least three times. Having received no answer, he decided to kill the President of the United States, as he believed that he would become famous throughout the country and would be able to talk with the actress on equal terms.

Before committing the assassination attempt, John Hinckley wrote a letter to Jodie Foster.

“Goodbye, I love you six trillion times. Perhaps you like me at least a little? " He wrote on the envelope.

On March 30, 1981, John Hinckley Jr. fired a revolver at Reagan six times as he left the Hilton after meeting with unions. The president was hit with only one bullet - in the lung - the guard immediately pushed him into the car and took him to the hospital. Reagan survived and quickly recovered, and his playful reaction to the assassination attempt aroused the sympathy of the Americans. His representative, who was left disabled, was less fortunate.

In 1982, John Hinckley Jr. was acquitted by jury on the grounds of insanity, as he was diagnosed with mental problems. 83% of Americans surveyed by ABC said that justice did not win in this case. In 1984, Reagan signed legislation that made it much more difficult to acquit people who have committed crimes in a state of mental illness.

After the assassination attempt on the President of the United States, his wife Nancy Reagan turned to astrologer Joan Qingley to better plan the president's work schedule. The first lady confirmed this in her memoirs.

When the press learned of this in 1988, the New York Post came up with the headline "Astrologer Leads the White House." Nancy Reagan later replied: "Although astrology was the factor that determined Ronnie's schedule, it was never the only factor, and no political decision was ever based on it."

Quingley herself claimed in her book that she planned press conferences, foreign visits, presidential plane flights and even presidential debates, determined which days it was better to be at home.

President Reagan saw the decline and disintegration of the Soviet Union, which he called the “evil empire,” and died a natural death in 2004. The last years of his life he suffered from Alzheimer's disease. Some fans of the Tekumse curse believe that it destroyed it.

John Hinckley-Molosh spent almost 35 years in prison psychiatric hospitals. In 2016, he was released by court order, imposed a number of bans. In particular, he was forbidden to keep materials about Jodie Foster and photographs with her, to approach the actress and her family members, as well as members of the Reagan family.

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"Broken Curse"

After Ronald Reagan completed his service in 1989, the Tecumseh curse began to be forgotten. Serious historians hardly remembered it anyway, so with the advent of the Internet, it settled on the space of Internet forums and sites about strange events and conspiracy theories.

In 2000, George W. Bush was elected President of the United States. His policies have often provoked protests, both in the United States and abroad, and for terrorists he could be an ideal target. However, according to official data, the closest thing to the death of Bush Jr. was in Tbilisi in 2005, when a resident of the city, Vladimir Harutyunyan, threw a grenade wrapped in a handkerchief in the direction of the stage on which the presidents of Georgia and the United States, hated by him, spoke. The grenade did not work, Harutyunyan was found and sent to prison for life, and the attempt was quickly forgotten.

In fact, due to health problems or people dissatisfied with the political course of the White House, many American presidents could not live to see the end of their term. And this is not just about the elected in "year zero" - for example, President Gerald Ford in 1975 was tried to be killed twice.

Many American historians, in particular, the biographer of the Indian leader Amy Sturgess, frankly called the "curse of the Tecumseh" fiction.

“The origin of a legend is simply a combination of an extraordinary, but plausible, series of events with a natural human tendency to find patterns and willingly ascribe to these patterns what greater meaning,” wrote Robert Paul, author of Urban Legends and Historical Traditions of Washington, about the “curse. Columbia region".

However, the legend of the “curse of the zero year” still has some benefit - people who read about it become more interested in US history.

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