Lincoln–Kennedy coincidences urban legend
Claimed coincidences connecting U.S. Presidents Abraham Lincoln and John F. Kennedy are a piece of American folklore of unknown origin. The list of coincidences appeared in the mainstream American press in 1964, a year after the assassination of John F. Kennedy, having appeared prior to that in the GOP Congressional Committee Newsletter. Martin Gardner examined the list in an article in Scientific American, later reprinted in his book, The Magic Numbers of Dr. Matrix. Gardner's version of the list contained 16 items; many subsequent versions have circulated much longer lists. The list is still in circulation today, having endured in the popular imagination for over 50 years. In 1992, the Skeptical Inquirer ran a "Spooky Presidential Coincidences Contest." One winner found a series of sixteen similar coincidences between Kennedy and former Mexican President Álvaro Obregón, while the other came up with similar lists for twenty-one pairs of U.S. presidents.
Snopes gives the "widely and continuously reprinted and circulated list" as having the following items:
- Both presidents were elected to Congress in '46.
- Both presidents were elected to the presidency in '60.
- "Lincoln" and "Kennedy" each have 7 letters.
- Both were particularly concerned with civil rights.
- Both wives lost a child while living in the White House.
- Both Presidents were shot on a Friday.
- Both were shot in the head.
- Lincoln's secretary, Kennedy, warned him not to go to the theatre. Kennedy's secretary, Lincoln, warned him not to go to Dallas.
- Both were assassinated by Southerners.
- Both were succeeded by Southerners.
- Both successors were named Johnson.
- Both successors were born in '08.
- Both assassins, John Wilkes Booth and Lee Harvey Oswald, were born in '39.
- Both assassins were known by their three names.
- Each assassin's name is composed of fifteen letters.
- Booth ran from the theater and was caught in a warehouse; Oswald ran from a warehouse and was caught in a theater.
- Booth and Oswald were assassinated before their trials.
Some urban folklorists have postulated that the list provided a way for people to make sense of two tragic events in American history by seeking out patterns. Gardner and others have said that it is relatively easy to find seemingly meaningful patterns relating any two people or events.
Most of the items above are true, such as the year in which Lincoln and Kennedy were each elected President, but this is not so unusual given that Presidential elections are held only every four years. A few of the items are simply untrue: for example, there is no record to show that Lincoln had a secretary named Kennedy; Lincoln's secretaries were John Hay and John G. Nicolay. John Wilkes Booth was born in 1838, not 1839, and Lee Harvey Oswald was normally just "Lee Oswald" before the assassination. However, Lincoln's footman, William H. Crook did advise Lincoln not to go that night to Ford's Theatre. David Mikklenson, on Snopes, also points out numerous ways in which Lincoln and Kennedy don't match, to show the superficial nature of the alleged coincidences: For example, Lincoln was born in 1809 but Kennedy in 1917; though Lincoln and Kennedy were both elected in '60, Lincoln was already in his second term when assassinated but Kennedy was not, and neither the years, months, nor dates of their assassinations match. Lincoln never had a secretary named Kennedy.
Buddy Starcher wrote a song recounting many of these coincidences and parallels between the two presidents' careers and deaths entitled "History Repeats Itself." It became a U.S. Top 40 hit for him during the spring of 1966, and reached number two on the Country chart. Cab Calloway also scored a minor chart hit with the song that same year.
- A Compendium of Curious Coincidences, TIME, August 21, 1964 "Archived copy". Archived from the original on January 29, 2007. Retrieved December 16, 2007.CS1 maint: archived copy as title (link) CS1 maint: BOT: original-url status unknown (link)
- Newsweek, August 10, 1964
- The Magic Numbers of Dr. Matrix By Martin Gardner. 1985. Prometheus Books. Library of Congress Catalog Card No. 84-43183, ISBN 0-87975-281-5 (cloth), 0-87975-282-3 (paper) (This was previously titled The Numerology of Dr. Matrix. It contains all of The Incredible Dr. Matrix plus four more chapters.)
- Martin, Bruce (September–October 1998). "Coincidences: Remarkable or Random?". Skeptical Inquirer. 22 (5).
- Mikkelson, Barbara & David P. "Linkin' Kennedy" at Snopes.com: Urban Legends Reference Pages. Accessed June 2, 2019.
- "William Crook". PBS. Retrieved October 9, 2013.
- Lloyd Lewis (1994). The Assassination of Lincoln: History and Myth. University of Nebraska Press. p. 297. ISBN 9780803279490.
- Joel Whitburn's Top Pop Singles 1955-1990 - ISBN 0-89820-089-X