Lincoln–Kennedy coincidences urban legend
The coincidences between 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 G.O.P. 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. A more recent examination by Snopes.com found that the listed "coincidences are easily explained as the simple product of mere chance". 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 US Presidents.
An example of the list is presented here for illustration. Some say that much of the list has been debunked, and a few entries are outright falsehoods. 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, but that such patterns often do not stand up to rigorous scrutiny.
- Both presidents were elected to the House of Representatives in '46.
- Both presidents were elected to the presidency in '60.
- Lincoln defeated incumbent Vice President John C. Breckenridge for the presidency in 1860; Kennedy defeated incumbent Vice President Richard M. Nixon for the presidency in 1960.
- Both their predecessors left office in their seventies and retired to Pennsylvania. James Buchanan, whom Lincoln succeeded, retired to Lancaster Township; Dwight D. Eisenhower, whom Kennedy succeeded, retired to Gettysburg.
- Both their Vice Presidents and successors were Southern Democrats named Johnson (Andrew Johnson and Lyndon Johnson) who were born in '08.
- Both presidents were concerned with the problems of black Americans and made their views strongly known in '63. Lincoln signed the Emancipation Proclamation in 1862, which became law in 1863. In 1963, Kennedy presented his reports to Congress on Civil Rights, and the same year was the famous March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom.
- Both presidents were shot in the head.
- Both presidents were shot on a Friday in the presence of their wives. Both Fridays preceded a major holiday observed within the week.
- Both presidents were accompanied by another couple.
- The male companion of the other couple was wounded by the assassin.
- Both presidents had a son die during their presidency.
- Lincoln was shot by John Wilkes Booth at Ford's Theatre; Kennedy was shot by Lee Harvey Oswald in a Lincoln automobile, made by Ford.
- Lincoln had a secretary named Kennedy who told him not to go to the theatre; Kennedy had a secretary named Evelyn Lincoln who warned him not to go to Dallas.
- Both presidents' last names have 7 letters.
- Both presidents have five syllables in their full name (which counts Kennedy's middle initial).
- There are 6 letters in each Johnson's first name.
- After shooting Lincoln, Booth ran from a theatre to a warehouse; after shooting Kennedy, Oswald ran from a warehouse to a theatre.
- Both Johnsons were succeeded as President in '69 by Republicans whose mothers were named Hannah.
- Both assassins died in the same month as their victim in a state adjacent to the state of their birth.
- Both assassins were Southern white males born in the late '30s, who were in their mid-20s.
- Both assassins actively sympathized with governments that opposed the United States.
- Both assassins were killed before being tried, by men who were reared in the North, changed their name as adults, and were bachelors.
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, and both started their political careers 100 years apart. Other items leave out details that are different. A few of the items are simply untrue; there is no record to show that Lincoln had a secretary named Kennedy; Lincoln's secretaries were John Hay and John G. Nicolay. The list also has inspired humorous parody, such as an item that says: "Before being killed, Lincoln was in Monroe, Maryland, while Kennedy was in Marilyn Monroe."
- A Compendium of Curious Coincidences, TIME, August 21, 1964
- 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.)
- Mikkelson, Barbara & David P. "Linkin' Kennedy" at Snopes.com: Urban Legends Reference Pages.
- Martin, Bruce (September/October 1998). "Coincidences: Remarkable or Random?". Skeptical Inquirer 22 (5).