The so-called "Zero-Year Curse", also known as the Curse of Tecumseh or the Curse of Tippecanoe, was first widely popularized by a "Ripley's Believe it or Not" cartoon from 1931. The cartoon noted that since 1840, every U.S. President elected in a year ending with a zero had died in office.
- 1840 William Henry Harrison (aka "Old Tippecanoe") — died April 4, 1841 of pneumonia — one month after being inaugurated
- 1860 Abraham Lincoln — died April 15, 1865 — assassinated
- 1880 James A. Garfield — died September 19, 1881 — assassinated
- 1900 William McKinley — died September 14, 1901 — assassinated
- 1920 Warren G. Harding — died August 2 1923 — believed to have died of a heart attack or stroke; but some believe he was poisoned.
- 1940 Franklin D. Roosevelt — died April 12, 1945 — died of cerebral hemorrhage.
- 1960 John F. Kennedy — died November 22, 1963 — assassinated
- 1980 Ronald Reagan — attempted assassination on March 30, 1981, but survived to serve two terms
Reagan seems to have broken the curse, because he served both his terms and did not die until 2004, nearly two decades after leaving office. George W. Bush, elected in 2000, also survived his presidency without incident, unless you count that close shave with a pretzel.
So where did this curse come from? The first victim of the curse, William Henry Harrison, was a general who had received fame for defeating the great Shawnee chief Tecumseh in the battle of the Tippecanoe River in the Indiana Territory in 1811. Because of this victory, Harrison was nicknamed "Old Tippecanoe". (His election slogan was "Tippecanoe and Tyler too!")
Now, Tecumseh had a brother named Tenskwatawa, another leader of the Shawnee tribes, who was a holy man and often called "The Prophet". It was speculated that Tenskwatawa might have placed the curse on the man who killed his brother and upon anyone else ascending to the presidency in a like-numbered year. Which doesn't really make a whole lot of sense, but what the hey.
Game and Story Use
- In a Time travel or historical campaign the PC's might become involved in the Battle of Tippecanoe, possibly encountering Tenskwatawa himself.
- Perhaps the PCs are there specifically to discover the truth behind the curse, or to prevent the curse from being uttered.
- Perhaps the Zero-Year deaths are the acts of a renegade time traveler.
- Reagan broke the Zero-Year Curse — or did he? Perhaps we're living in an alternate timeline and that Reagan was actually supposed to die!
- Perhaps the PCs have to travel back to 1981 to ensure that he does, or causality could come undone!
- Let's not forget that John Hinckley Jr (who attempted to kill Reagan) and Mark David Chapman (who did kill John Lennon just a few months earlier then Hinckley's attempt on Reagan) both had copies of Catcher In The Rye. Usually the connection that's drawn there involves the CIA's MK-ULTRA program, but perhaps it's more a matter of magic. It's known that Nancy Reagan consulted an astrologer to protect her husband - could she have actual been part of a coven that used sympathetic magic to transfer the Curse of Tippecanoe on to the famous Rockstar? Perhaps Catcher In The Rye has occult significance (or was the link used to transfer the curse), instead of "merely" being a hypnotic trigger for brainwashed assassins? Maybe the curse is now on British Writers instead of American Statesmen - explaining the 2001 death of Douglas Adams. Or perhaps it transferred as just a tragedy befalling New York City (where Lennon lived and was shot) every 20 years or so - linking this to 9/11. Or some other crazy notion that fits your campaign.