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Weird Historical Coincidences

Call it chance, serendipity, good luck, bad luck, being in the right place at the right time or the wrong place at exactly the wrong time. History is littered with instances of coincidence that, while they might not make you believe there is anything supernatural behind them, at least might leave you thinking “hmm, that was weird.” Let’s take a look at a few of the coincidences linked to some of history’s biggest events. 

The Curse of Tippecanoe

William Henry Harrison

When William Henry Harrison was elected President of the United States, it was under the cloud of an alleged curse cast upon him by the spiritual leader of the Shawnee tribe. As a governor, Harrison had destroyed the headquarters of a confederacy of Native American tribes in 1811 in what was known as the Battle of Tippecanoe after the nearby river. In a very specific curse, Tenskwatawa, also known as The Prophet, decreed that every future US President elected in a year ending in zero would die in office. Harrison, who was also given the nickname “Tippecanoe” after his decisive victory, was elected in 1840 and promptly died of pneumonia a month into his first term. And it didn’t end with him. Abraham Lincoln won the election in 1860 and was assassinated by John Wilkes Booth in 1865. In 1880, James Garfield was elected and went on to be assassinated in 1881. In 1900, William McKinley won his second term only to be killed the following year. Warren G. Harding was elected in 1920 and died in office of a stroke in 1923. When FDR won his third term in 1940, he probably had bigger issues on his mind than worrying about some old death curse but maybe he should have taken heed as he died in 1945 having just started his 4th term as President. Maybe the curse was still in effect when John F. Kennedy won the election in 1960 as he was assassinated three years later, taking the number of presidents dying in office who were elected in years ending in zero to a whopping 7. It took The Gipper himself, Ronald Reagan, to finally break the curse. Elected in 1980, he survived an assassination attempt in 1981 and went on to serve two full terms as president. Since Kennedy, there have been no presidential deaths in office. Another potential canidate was George W. Bush who won the election in 2000 but he also survived at least one serious assassination attempt and held the presidency for two terms. The most recent president to be elected in a year ending with zero is Joe Biden in 2020. At 78, he’s the oldest man ever to take on the role so time will tell if the curse of Tippecanoe will strike again.

Titan vs Titanic

One cold April evening, a large ocean liner heralded as being unsinkable, hit an iceberg and started sinking. Due to the lack of lifeboats, almost everybody on board drowned in the freezing waters of the North Atlantic. A man called John Rowland was among just 13 survivors and saved the life of a little girl, only to be charged with her kidnapping. Hang on a minute. If you thought the last part of this story didn’t sound so familiar, you’d be right. This isn’t the story of the Titanic but rather a novella written by Morgan Robertson in 1898, years before the Titanic was even built. It was originally published as “Futility” and was later reissued as “The Wreck of the Titan”. In a chain of strange parallels to the real life future maritime disaster, the novella follows the character of John Rowland who works on the largest liner of its time, the Titan. As well as being a very similar name to the Titanic, the ship in the novella, was also a similar size to the doomed liner. The identical accident of the ships hitting icebergs took place at the same time of year and in the same location. After the Titanic sank in 1912, the book was, of course, reissued with many thinking that Morgan Robertson was some sort of clairvoyant. He declared he was not, and just put the strange coincidence down to the fact that he was pretty knowledgeable about the maritime industry. Even as a cautionary tale though, this story was eerily prescient. 

In another coincidence – sort of –  if you’re interested in this story, check out the Titanic episode on my new channel, Decoding the Unknown, where I go into more depth about weird things surrounding one of the most famous maritime disasters of all time. 

First and Last

Over the 4 years of the First World War, it’s estimated that around 40 million people were killed or wounded. Of these, around 10 million military personnel died which was slightly less than the estimated number of civilian deaths. Britain and other countries that were in the British Empire at the time lost a total of over 900,000 soldiers with the heaviest loss coming during the Battle of the Somme with over 57,000 British soldiers killed or injured on the 1st of July 1916. With such a huge loss of life under perilous circumstances, it wasn’t unusual for soldiers to be buried where they fell or close to the battlefields, sometimes in communal graves. After the hostilities, as many as possible were exhumed to be reburied in military cemetaries. This was the fate of the first British man to be killed during World War One. Private John Parr, who was actually only 17 at the time, was shot and killed on the 21st of August 1914 while on a recon mission just over the Belgian border. After the war, his body was recovered and reburied in the St Symphorien Military Cemetery in Belgium. The last British soldier to be killed during hostilities in the First World War was 40 year old George Edwin Ellison. Ellison was shot by a sniper a mere 90 minutes before the Armistice came into effect on the 11th of November, 1918. In a neat and unplanned, albeit sad, twist of fate, in a cemetery with over 500 graves, Parr and Ellison’s graves actually directly face one another as sombre bookends to one of history’s deadliest chapters.

Bombs Away

Is Tsutomu Yamaguchi the luckiest or unluckiest man in history? The Japanese engineer was away from home on a work trip one day when he saw something dropping out of a plane in the sky. I’ll give you a hint, this was in Hiroshima on the 6th of August, 1945. Yes, Yamaguchi was about to experience the first ever use of a nuclear bomb in a war environment. He describes seeing a “great flash in the sky” and was knocked over by the blast. He wasn’t one of the tens of thousands of people that died in the immediate aftermath of the detonation but even at about 3 kilometres (1.8 miles) away from the centre, he suffered from radiation burns to his body and his eardrums were ruptured from the force of the explosion. After taking a train back to his home city, he sought medical treatment and went back to work a couple of days later. I’ll give you another hint. His home city was Nagasaki and it was now the 9th of August, 1945. In fact, Yamaguchi was in the middle of telling his boss all about the first atomic bomb drop when the US dropped the second bomb over Nagasaki. Yamaguchi was almost exactly the same distance away from this explosion but managed to avoid further injury.  

While the figures vary quite substantially depending on where you look, it’s estimated that around 135,000 people died in the detonation and immediate aftermath of the “Little Boy” atomic bomb over Hiroshima. Nagasaki lost at least 65,000 citizens when the bomb known as “Fat Man” exploded 3 days later. Many thousands more people died of radiation related sicknesses in the following months and years.

Later in his life, Yamaguchi, unsurprisingly, became very pro nuclear disarmament and even met with director James Cameron to discuss making a film about nuclear weapons. Although he may not have been the only person to witness both bombings, after notifying the Japanese government about his experiences, Yamaguchi became the only officially recognized double survivor of the atomic bombs. In spite of being exposed to high levels of radiation twice in almost as many days, he lived to the age of 93.

Lincoln and Kennedy

Let’s end on another presidential coincidence. Two of the most famous US presidents are Abraham Lincoln and John F. Kennedy. Apart from both being members of this very tiny club, there are many other notable links and parallels between their lives – and deaths. There was a famous list of these supposed connections which began circulating in 1964, however, not everything on it was accurate. Not that that stopped people from recirculating and spreading it, of course, and you can still find it being passed around on social media today. There were some true things on it though, so let’s take a look at some of those. Some are pretty mundane like the names “Lincoln” and “Kennedy” both having 7 letters. Hardly a coincidence as other presidents Madison, Jackson, Johnson, Harding and Clinton also have 7 letters. 

Abraham Lincoln was elected to Congress in 1846 and elected to be President in 1860. Kennedy was elected to Congress in 1946 and elected to be President in 1960 so that’s a nice, neat hundred year round-up. 

Both families lost a son while living in the White House. Lincoln’s son Willie died of fever and Kennedy’s son Patrick died shortly after being born prematurely. Lincoln had two secretaries, both with the first name John. John F. Kennedy had a secretary called Evelyn Lincoln.

Both Presidents were shot on a Friday. Again, not really a coincidence. There are only 7 days in a week after all so chances of synchronicity are quite good. They were also both shot in the head which, really is the only place you’re going to be targeting if you’re trying to assassinate someone. Both wives were also right there and escaped physical injury but both incidents also resulted in the injury of another man in the President’s party. The shootings were very different, though, with Lincoln being shot up close and Kennedy from quite a distance. 

After their deaths, both men were succeeded by Southern vice presidents who both had the surname “Johnson”. Not only that, but Andrew Johnson who was Lincoln’s vice president was born in 1808 and Lyndon B. Johnson, who succeeded Kennedy, was born a matching century later in 1908.

Their assassins, John Wilkes Booth and Lee Harvey Oswald both had a total of 15 letters in their names and there’s also the “Ford” connection. Lincoln was in a place called Ford’s Theater when he was shot. Kennedy was riding in a Ford-owned convertible when he was shot, the make and model of which was, coincidentally, a Lincoln Continental. 

Both Oswald and Booth were killed before their trials but this spirals into conspiracy theories that we’re not going to get into here. Over the course of two lifetimes, these similarities maybe don’t add up to all that much but it’s still interesting to find these connections with the past.

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