We move from the May / June column to the July August column. Yep, we were sinking into the bimonthly schedule again! From this point on the pattern will fluctuate back and forth between monthly and bimonthly, with the exception of a couple of "glitches" which we'll run into soon enough.

Now, I had been thoroughly enjoying taking old columns and building them up for online inclusion. Additionally, the past two columns had been devoted to haunted houses, one of my favorite topics

Well, after two such columns it was clearly time to take a break from the ghosts, and it was also time to produce something entirely new.

I'd been fascinated with the legend of Tecumseh's curse since I was a small Joe. Now, as I pondered, I realized that there was more than a passing connection to the Beatles as well.

How could I resist?

Hello again, and happy Independence Day!

I had thought to give you something specifically American this time - something patriotic, perhaps presidential . . .

At which point I recalled making a rather rash promise last column to do something on - oh, what had I said?

I couldn't quite recall, so I immediately dashed off to our May issue, and to my horror discovered that I'd purported to tie both John Kennedy and John Lennon to the infamous "Tecumseh's Curse."

Oh dear.

Well, I said it, you read it, so let's give it a shot . . .

Tecumseh's Curse, JFK, and a Little Lennon Too


It is, after all, July. We have, in previous midsummer ramblings, explored the true genesis of the Declaration of Independence, Lincoln's seances, etc. It's always a source of joy to me to ponder on how many strange oddities and downright uncanny occurrences seem to surround our early national history, and especially the Presidency.

And yet, I've never told my favorite story: the Legend of Tecumseh's Curse.

Was I saving it for a special occasion? Was I suffering year-to-year amnesia? Was I making it all up?

Well . . . truth be told, I had a devil of a time getting any information whatsoever on the origins of this wonderful legend.

Happily, due to a combination of years of research and the vast information bank now available on the net, the time has come to tell the tale.

Tecumseh and Tenskwatawa were brothers - Native Americans of the Shawnee Nation. Tenskwatawa as a youth was by all accounts something of a hell-raiser, and at age 30 passed into a coma and was believed dead. At his own funeral service, however, he miraculously revived, and told his astonished friends and family of how he had been visited by two angels sent by God, who had given him a mission.

His mission was to unite the various Native American peoples, and free them from the European-induced slavery of alcohol. He soon had many converts, and began to be known as The Prophet. With his brother Tecumseh as his political machinist, he began to forge a great alliance of Indian Nations - an alliance which gave great hopes to the British, who saw in this early "united nations" a potential means of recapturing their lost colonies - an alliance which caused great chagrin in the United States for pretty much the same reason.

At any rate, the brothers allied themselves with the British in the early 1800's, with The Prophet setting up headquarters at Tippecanoe while Tecumseh wandered far and wide firming up the Alliance. Tensions between the British and their former American colonies were heating up, and by 1811 war seemed inevitable.

In the fall of 1811 a company of troops led by William Henry Harrison ventured into the Tippecanoe area to ascertain the threat of The Prophet's movement, and presumably to take action if necessary. The Prophet, somewhat naturally, decided to attack the troops. The result, on November 7 of that year, was the famed "Battle of Tippecanoe" in which The Prophet and his warriors were routed and sent fleeing into the wilds, their town burned to the ground.

The War of 1812 soon commenced, with Tecumseh and The Prophet now firmly allied with the British against the United States. Harrison again led his forces against the brothers repeatedly, and in October of 1813 Tecumseh was killed at the Battle of Thames.

After the war The Prophet vanished into Canada, where he remained for the next twenty years.

In 1836, he learned that his hated enemy, William Henry Harrison, was running for President. It was reported that he took a great interest in this matter, and some said it had caused him to make one final prophecy . . .

In November of that year, just as Harrison lost the election, The Prophet died.

Having apparently heard the last of his former foe, Harrison spent most of the next four years campaigning for the next election. Rumors began to circulate that his loss in the 1836 campaign had been the doing of The Prophet, who had cursed Harrison for the death of Tecumseh and denied him the Presidency.

Such rumors seemed groundless when in 1840 Harrison was elected President.

Then, one month after taking office, he caught pneumonia and died - the first U.S. President to die in office.

This set some to wonder if maybe they'd merely misinterpreted the curse. It was as if the ghostly hands of The Prophet had reached out of the grave to exact a final vengeance, and now people wondered what would happen next. Was this the end of it, or was the next President also doomed to die in office?

Over the next couple of decades the legend of "Tecumseh's Curse" (as it was beginning to be somewhat inaccurately called) faded, as Presidents came and went, all leaving office very much alive.

Then, exactly twenty years after Harrison's election, Abraham Lincoln was elected - precipitating the unparalleled mass secession of Southern states that led to the worst national conflagration ever - the Civil War. A few old-timers, remembering, wondered if this might have had something to do with the now all-but-forgotten curse.

Then, as you probably know, Lincoln was assassinated in April 1865, shot from behind by the brother of the nation's foremost actor of the time.

There were now two Presidents who had died in office.

And Lincoln had taken office exactly twenty years after Harrison.

Again the years passed without incident (in that regard, anyway), and then it was 1880.

This time, the man elected to the highest office in the land was a towering fellow named James Garfield.

He managed to last four months (they took office in March in those days).

On July 2, 1881, Garfield was assassinated by an unbalanced fellow who was distraught at failing to secure a government post.

We now had three dead-in-office Presidents, each elected exactly twenty years apart. I imagine the ancient curse began to be remembered around this time.

Again the years passed, again no President died, and this time the "twentieth-year" election would be different.

For in the election of 1900 the candidate thought most likely to win was already President: William McKinley. It's true that the Vice President had died during Mckinley's first term, but that hardly seemed Tecumseh-like. Perhaps the curse was limited to the nineteenth century . . .

To replace the dead V.P. for the 1900 campaign McKinley chose a man he wasn't particularly comfortable with, but who had become something of a legend even then: Teddy Roosevelt.

They won overwhelmingly.

This time the President almost made it into the fall.

On September 6, 1901, McKinley was felled by an anarchist's bullet. The Curse, still working, was now as old as The Prophet had lived to be.

Again, the next few Presidents emerged alive from their terms, though Wilson was ill and essentially incapacitated for the last part of his Presidency.

Then came 1920, and Warren Harding became President.

He actually lasted quite some time, but on August 2, 1923, he was suddenly stricken by thrombosis and died.

You know how the story works by now, so let's simply jump ahead to the next 20 Year Anniversary, to 1940. The man who became President this time had already held that post since 1933 - Franklin Roosevelt (yes, a relation of Teddy's). When he was reelected for an unprecedented third time in 1940 people began to recall the curse and wonder - but FDR was unprecedented all the way around and actually survived to win a fourth term as President! Had the curse finally run its course, on this, the 100th anniversary of its inception?

Well, no.

Less than a year into his fourth term Roosevelt died.

We now had six Presidents who had succumbed while holding that venerable post, all apparent victims of Tecumseh's Curse.

In the election of 1960, of course, John Kennedy landed the job, only to be assassinated in Dallas in 1963, and as I remember the moment very clearly I'd just as soon not dwell on it any more than necessary. (Yeah right - you know there's a Kennedy column somewhere in the near future of this newsletter . . .)

Well, perhaps a few words are not entirely out of place. After all, the previous six Presidential deaths were essentially just names in a book to me - but the Kennedy Assassination was something I lived.

I was in second grade at a Catholic elementary school. Kennedy was the only President I really remembered, and in my innocence I simply assumed he'd always be President. It seemed to me the natural order of things that an Irish Catholic should be running things, especially to a child who pretty much assumed the whole world was Catholic and hadn't really yet made the distinction between Presidents and Kings.

Sometime after eleven a.m. on a late November morning a nun came racing into the classroom, dragging our teacher outside, where they spoke in hushed, frantic tones, filling us all with the greatest excitement (anything that disrupts a school day is never a bad thing).

Our teacher reappeared, a small transistor radio in her hand. She explained that someone had tried to shoot the President. That's all anyone knew then.

For the next half hour or so we attempted to get better reception, waiting breathlessly to learn what had happened. As the minutes dragged by it was announced that Kennedy had actually been hit, and taken to a hospital. One of my classmates began sobbing uncontrollably, and the rest of us attempted to stop this unseemly display by pointing out, in our infinite wisdom, that "they're not gonna let the President die . . ."

I'm not sure why they turned off the radio, but I imagine that when it became clear that Kennedy might not survive, someone decided that a classroom full of seven year olds might be better off not getting the news live.

So school was cancelled, and as we waited for our hastily summoned parents to fetch us we were running around like reporters outside a Liz Taylor wedding. Is he dead? Is Johnson dead? Somebody said that they heard . . . etc. etc.
Mom (that's Sheryl, owner of Book Again) picked me up, and I must have lasted about eleven seconds before I began bombarding her with questions. Bless her heart, she didn't know what to say except that she didn't know and all we could do now was pray. I have to assume that his death was pretty much official by now, especially as she wouldn't let me turn on the radio.

Of course Mom had forgotten about the evening paper, and so it was that I discovered, upon arriving home, a special edition of the Herald Examiner exclaiming "JFK IS DEAD".

And that's how I found out.

The event was much more traumatic in the long run than at that moment. I was only seven - as far as I and my younger brothers were concerned the real tragedy was the canceling of all Saturday Morning Cartoons. (All three networks were doing round the clock coverage of the assassination's aftermath all weekend.)

In retrospect of course, it hit hard - especially as I began to feel the grief vicariously through the older kids, who were devastated.

He'd been our President, the pied piper to a generation of kids who couldn't wait until they were old enough to join the Peace Corps, a generation absolutely entranced with the wit, the glamour, the sheer perfection of Kennedy's presidency.

And now the old guys had taken it all back.

And now there was a tremendous void that December of '63, each kid feeling they'd lost a favorite relative, a friend.

You'd see someone break into tears for no reason, and no one would have to ask why. Everyone knew, everyone understood. Life had lost meaning for a lot of kids.

And "Louie Louie" on the radio just wasn't cutting it.

So anyway there was this rock band who'd been the biggest band in their own country for almost a year, who were completely unknown in America. All their hit singles had bombed here, but when their latest record caused a sensation in their own country unlike anything since Elvis, Dick Clark played it on "American Bandstand," asking the assembled teenagers for their opinions.
The assembled teenagers laughed the poor record off the turntable. It sounded weird, you couldn't really dance to it, it wasn't as cool as the Beach Boys, etc.

That record also bombed in America.

That record was "She Loves You." The group, of course, was The Beatles, and by late November Beatlemania in the form of near-riots and screaming girls had all of England in its grip.

Within days of Kennedy's assassination the group released a new single: "I Want To Hold Your Hand." Their track record, and the fact that no English rock group had ever made a dent in the American charts, had caused their label's U.S. arm (Capitol) to refuse even to release their previous singles (they'd come out on three different small labels here). However, even Capitol was impressed with the rioting now occurring in England, and decided to release this new single some time in January . . .

No one yet realized just how much things had changed.

Sometime in early December, a disk jockey on the East Coast got hold of an import copy of the single, and started spinning it.

Imagine being a kid then - especially a young teenaged girl who might very well have had Kennedy photos on her wall vying for space with Fabian and Ricky Nelson, one perhaps of the many teens who would line up for hours on the street if Kennedy was going to be passing by, who would scream in sheer manic exuberance at this glamorous young Leader. A girl who now felt empty, weighted down by the horrible unfairness of a world that could take someone like that away. America had turned into a horrible monster. Anything American had suddenly become suspect. And politics had died, as far as she was now concerned.

Imagine, if you will, the first time she hears the Beatles.

They're different than anything she's heard, and in December of 1963 "different" is a very good thing to be.

And they sing funny - by god, they're English!

Anyway, to cut a long column short, the reaction is predictably immense, and completely unexpected. Calls start pouring in, and poor Capitol has to keep the presses rolling nonstop to rush release the domestic version of the single - and during the Christmas season, yet!

The rest is too well known to more than touch on - there was a void left by Kennedy's assassination, and the Beatles filled it. The same screams that used to greet the fallen President were now aimed across the Atlantic. JFK's death had left an unknown, unfulfilled yearning in millions of American kids, and is certainly a major factor in the Beatle's sudden rise to the top of the American charts. They became the biggest pop phenomenon ever, everybody grew long hair, and for quite some time the charts were dominated by bands from England, as the desire for something different, something not American, created a teenaged buying frenzy for anything and everything English - a frenzy soon known as the "British Invasion."

Hmmmm . . .

Of course, The Prophet and Tecumseh had been hoping for a British Invasion of a different sort, but still . . .

There is something universally magical in the number seven (especially for prophets and their ilk), and Kennedy was the seventh victim of the Curse . . .

Granted, my tongue is at least partly in cheek at this moment, but there is something a little bit uncanny about all this.

So we jump another twenty years. It's now 1980, Reagan's elected, and I know what's coming (I was hip to the Curse legend by then, as were many). No one was much surprised when Ronald Reagan was felled by an assassin in 1981.

But wait - he survived! Yes, folks, Ronald Reagan served two terms and lived, and lives to this day. He broke the curse. Whether the British domination of teenaged American currency in 1964 satisfied The Prophet, whether it was always meant to be seven Presidents only, we will never know. One thing's for sure, though - nothing happened in the wake of Reagan's election.

Well, almost nothing.

I nearly forgot: exactly one month after Reagan was elected President, the Beatles' founder, John Lennon, was shot to death by an assassin . . .

Hmmmm . . .

 " . . . but Harrison will die, I tell you. And when he dies you will remember my brother Tecumseh's death. You think that I have lost my powers - I who caused the sun to darken and Red Men to give up firewater. But 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 . . ."

( - the actual wording of the Curse, as pronounced by The Prophet in 1836)