Origins: Not long after the assassination of President John F. Kennedy in 1963, the above list of amazing coincidences appeared, and it has been widely and continuously reprinted and circulated ever since. Despite the seemingly impressive surface appearance, several of these entries are either misleading or factually incorrect, and the rest are mere superficial coincidences that fail to touch upon the substantial differences and dissimilarities that underlie them.
Let's examine them one at a time:
Abraham Lincoln was elected to Congress in 1846.
John F. Kennedy was elected to Congress in 1946.
This statement is literally true: both Lincoln and Kennedy were first elected to Congress one hundred years apart. Aside from that minor coincidence, however, their political careers bore little resemblance to each other.
Lincoln was an Illinois state legislator who, outside of his election to a single term in the House of Representatives, failed in his every attempt to gain national political office until he was elected President in 1860, including an unsuccessful bid for the Senate in 1854, a unsuccessful bid to become the Republican vice-presidential candidate in 1856, and another unsuccessful bid for a Senate seat in 1858.
Kennedy, on the other hand, enjoyed an unbroken string of political successes at the national level when he entered the political arena after World War II. He was elected to the House of Representatives in 1946, re-elected in 1948, re-elected again in 1950, won a Senate seat in 1952, was re-elected to the Senate in 1958, and was elected President in 1960.
Abraham Lincoln was elected President in 1860.
John F. Kennedy was elected President in 1960.
It's hardly surprising that two men who (as noted above) both achieved their first political successes at the national level a hundred years apart would also ascend to the Presidency a hundred years apart. This "coincidence" is even less surprising when we consider that presidential elections are held only once every four years. Lincoln couldn't possibly have been elected President in 1857 or 1858 or 1859 or 1861 or 1862 or 1863, because no presidential elections were held in those years. Likewise, Kennedy couldn't possibly have been elected President in the non-election years of 1957, 1958, 1959, 1961, 1962, or 1963. So, even though both men were politically active at the national level during eight-year spans when they might have been elected President, circumstances dictated that the only years during those spans when they both could have been elected were exactly one hundred years apart.
Also unmentioned here is the fact that Lincoln was re-elected to a second term as President, but Kennedy was killed before the completion of his first term.
The names Lincoln and Kennedy each contain seven letters.
Surely this is the most trivial of coincidences, especially considering that the two men's first names contain different numbers of letters, and that Kennedy had a middle name (Fitzgerald) while Lincoln had none.
We're supposed to be amazed at minor happenstances such as the two men's being elected exactly one hundred years apart or having the same number of letters in their last names, but we're supposed to think nothing of the numerous non-coincidences: Lincoln was born in 1809; Kennedy was born in 1917. Lincoln died in 1865; Kennedy died in 1963. Lincoln was 56 years old at the time of his death; Kennedy was 46 years old at the time of his death. No striking coincidences or convenient hundred-year differences in any of those facts. Even when we consider that, absent all other factors, the two men had a one in twelve chance of dying in the same month, we find no coincidence there: Lincoln was killed in April; Kennedy was killed in November.
Both were particularly concerned with civil rights.
This is one of the statements that is so misleadingly worded (or downright inaccurate) that it doesn't really merit inclusion even on a list of mere superficial similarities.
First of all, saying that Lincoln and Kennedy were both "particularly concerned with civil rights" is like saying that Woodrow Wilson and Franklin Roosevelt were both "particularly concerned with war," or that Herbert Hoover and Ronald Reagan were both "particularly concerned with economics." Neither Lincoln nor Kennedy evinced a "particular interest" in civil rights, and to all appearances, both would willingly have maintained the racial status quo had events beyond their control not forced their hands.
Although Lincoln was personally opposed to slavery, his primary concern with the issue was how its divisiveness affected the United States, not the liberation of the Black man. Had the Union been able to survive half slave and half free without erupting into war, Lincoln's stated position was that he would have allowed the institution of slavery to remain intact and die a slow death. And whatever Lincoln's personal feelings about the equality of Blacks, he didn't espouse support for their "civil rights" because he believed that white society would never accept them as equals. Lincoln's only real expression of "civil rights" was his support for the idea of relocating free Blacks to Liberia so they could live apart from whites in a separate society. Even Lincoln's Emancipation Proclamation was issued as an exigency of war, not as measure intended to permanently end slavery in the USA, and constitutional amendments ending slavery and guaranteeing citizens of all races the right to vote were not enacted until after Lincoln's death.
In Kennedy's case, it was only after racial crises such as the University of Mississippi's refusal to admit a Black student (James Meredith) to attend class and the bombing of the 16th Street Baptist Church in Birmingham, Alabama, that he belatedly moved to promote civil rights legislation. Even then, his lack of support in Congress (and, ultimately, his assassination) meant that the task of passing civil rights legislation (such as the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Voting Rights Act of 1965) fell to his successor, Lyndon Johnson.
Both wives lost their children while living in the White House.
Another statement that, while literally true, is misleading and masks much more substantial dissimilarities.
The circumstances and nature of the deaths alluded to here are completely different, and the way the statement is phrased ("Both wives lost their children") implies that both women suffered the misfortune of a stillbirth or the death of an infant, something that is true only of Mrs. Kennedy.
All of Lincoln's children were born before he entered the White House, and the Lincolns actually lost two children, not just one (although only one died during Lincoln's tenure as President). Edward Lincoln died of tuberculosis in 1850, just before his fourth birthday, and the Lincolns' eleven-year-old son Willie succumbed to typhoid at the end of their first year in the White House.
The Kennedys, on the other hand, were the rare Presidential couple still young enough to be bearing children after entering the White House, and a premature child born to Mrs. Kennedy in 1963 died two days later.
Other differences: The Lincolns had four children, all boys, only one of whom lived past his teens. The Kennedys had three children, two boys and a girl, two of whom survived well into adulthood.
Both Presidents were shot on a Friday.
Another non-surprise. Absent all other factors, the odds were already one in seven that both killings would have occurred on the same day of the week. (Don't even think about writing to tell us that we're wrong and the odds are really one in forty-nine. If you think we're wrong, you don't understand the question.) Add to that the obvious notions that the best chance the average person has to shoot a President is at a public function and that most public functions are held on weekends, and it becomes even more likely that a President would be killed on a Friday, Saturday, or Sunday. (Indeed, an earlier plot by Booth to kidnap Lincoln while the latter was attending a play at the Campbell Hospital was slated for March 17, also a Friday.)
Both were shot in the head.
This "coincidence" is just plain dumb. The only two types of shots which reasonably assure a dead victim are chest shots and head shots, so two assassinations committed by head shots aren't the least bit coincidental, especially considering that since both Lincoln and Kennedy were shot from behind and while seated, their assassins had no other practical choice of target. And the "coincidence" here is even less surprising when we consider the differences: Lincoln was killed indoors with a small handgun at point blank range; Kennedy was shot outdoors with a rifle from several hundred feet away.
Lincoln's secretary, Kennedy, warned him not to go to Ford's Theatre.
Kennedy's secretary, Lincoln, warned him not to go to Dallas.
This is one of those coincidences that isn't a coincidence at all -- it's simply wrong. John Kennedy did have a secretary named Evelyn Lincoln (who may or may not have warned him about going to Dallas), but one searches in vain to find a Lincoln secretary named Kennedy. (Lincoln's White House secretaries were John G. Nicolay and John Hay.)
The more important point is that since Presidents are frequent recipients of assassination threats, they rarely make any public appearances without somebody's warning them of potential danger. Only on the extemely rare occasions when a tragedy actually occurs do we later take note of the warnings; in all other cases the failed "prophecies" are quickly forgotten. (Lincoln received "an unusual number of letters about plots to kidnap or assassinate him," said to have numbered at least eighty, yet none of those plots were enacted.) Nor does anyone think to mention other attempts at kidnap or assassination that were not preceded by any recorded warnings to the victims. (Lincoln was shot at on at least one other occasion.)
Yes, Lincoln was warned not to go to Ford's Theatre by persons concerned for his safety, just as he had been warned not to visit Richmond a week earlier, and just as he had been warned not to attend his own inauguration in 1861. Obviously, only one of the myriad of warnings he received throughout his four years in office was on the mark. Likewise, Kennedy was warned not to visit San Antonio the day before his trip to Dallas (and undoubtedly before a host of other appearances as well), but only the last warning he allegedly received is considered significant, because it coincidentally happened to come true. As Jeane Dixon and other "psychics" have demonstrated, if you make enough predictions, one of them is eventually bound to come true -- just as a stopped clock is also right twice a day.
Both were assassinated by Southerners.
A dubious use of the term "Southerner." Although John Wilkes Booth was undeniably a Southern sympathizer, he was born in Maryland, which (along with Delaware) was the northernmost of the border slave states and remained part of the Union throughout the Civil War. Additionally, Booth spent a good deal of his life in the North and "thought of himself as a Northerner who understood the South."
Oswald was nominally a Southerner by virtue of his having been born in New Orleans; he spent his youth being shuttled between Lousiana, Texas, and New York before finally joining the Marines. But Oswald's "Southerness" is of no real import, because, unlike Booth, Oswald was not motivated by a regional affiliation.
Both were succeeded by Southerners.
Both Lincoln and Kennedy were "succeeded by Southerners" because both had Southerners as vice-president, another fact hardly surprising considering the circumstances. Lincoln was a Northern Republican running for re-election while the country was in the midst of a civil war and needed a Southerner and a Democrat to balance the ticket, hence his choice of Tennessean Andrew Johnson. Kennedy, represented New England and therefore needed a vice-presidential candidate who could appeal to the populous Southern and Western regions, hence his choice of a Southwesterner, Texan Lyndon Johnson.
The identification of Andrew Johnson as a "Southerner" is also a bit problematic here. Although Johnson was born in North Carolina and spent his adult life in Tennessee (both slave states), Johnson was also the only Southern senator who refused to follow his state when it seceded, and he remained loyal to the Union.
Both successors were named Johnson.
Given the high frequency of "Johnson" (literally "son of John") as a surname in both Lincoln's and Kennedy's time, this "coincidence" should be no real surprise to anyone.
Andrew Johnson, who succeeded Lincoln, was born in 1808.
Lyndon Johnson, who succeeded Kennedy, was born in 1908.
Another hundred-year coincidence that is hardly surprising, since nearly all American politicians have attained high office (President or Vice-President) while in the 50-70 age range (and Andrew Johnson and Lyndon Johnson were, obviously, contemporaries of Lincoln and Kennedy, respectively). Perhaps it's time to point out that there's nothing "coincidental" about events merely because they somehow involve the number 100. If we sifted through all the Lincoln/Kennedy data, we could produce multiple instances of events involving the number 17 or 49 or 116, but nobody would consider those "coincidences" because they don't yield nice round numbers that have any significance to us, even though they're all just as "coincidental" as the number 100.
And once again, let's consider all the differences between the two Johnsons, such as that one hailed from North Carolina while the other was from Texas, or that one supported slavery while the other championed civil rights, or that one was never elected President in his own right while the other won the biggest presidential landslide in history, or that one was impeached while the other wasn't, or that one became President at the end of a war while the other became President at the beginning of a war.
John Wilkes Booth was born in 1839.
Lee Harvey Oswald was born in 1939.
Another coincidence that is no coincidence because it's plain wrong: Booth was born in 1838, not 1839.
Both assassins were known by their three names.
Another "coincidence" of dubious veracity. John Wilkes Booth was often billed as "J. Wilkes Booth" or simply "John Wilkes" (primarily to distinguish himself from his father and brother -- both named Junius -- and his brother Edwin, all three of whom were also actors), and as a prominent actor, his name was already familiar to the general public at the time of Lincoln's assassination. Lee Oswald was generally referred to as "Lee" (not "Lee Harvey") before Kennedy's assassination and was unknown to the general public until his arrest; the common usage of his full name only came about after the assassination because his habitual employment of false names (including several variations on his real name) and his possession of forged identification cards made it difficult for the Dallas police to identify him.
Both names are comprised of fifteen letters
Coincidence? None of their first, middle, or last names have the same number of letters. And why should it be significant that both assassins had the same number of letters in their full names when the same wasn't true of Abraham Lincoln and John Fitzgerald Kennedy, or of Andrew Johnson and Lyndon Baines Johnson?
Once again, perhaps we should focus on the substantive differences between the two men: Booth was born into a prominent family and, like his father, was a well-known, popular, gregarious actor. Oswald was born (and lived most of his life) in near poverty-level circumstances, never knew his father (who died two months before Oswald was born) and was an obscure, moody malcontent who never had any close friends or a steady job. Oswald was married with two children; Booth had neither wife nor offspring. Oswald enlisted in the Marines, but Booth kept a promise to his mother not to join the Confederate army.
Booth ran from the theater and was caught in a warehouse.
Oswald ran from a warehouse and was caught in a theater.
Another "coincidence" that is both inaccurate and superficial.
Booth shot Lincoln in a theatre of the type where live stage shows are held, then fled across state lines before being trapped and killed in a barn used for storage several days later.
Oswald shot Kennedy from (not in) a textbook warehouse, then remained in Dallas and was caught and taken alive in a movie theater a little over an hour later.
Booth and Oswald were assassinated before their trials.
Another superficial similarity with much more significant underlying differences, and a potentially dubious use of the word "assassinated."
After Booth shot Lincoln, he fled the scene and eventually (with co-conspirator, David Herold) crossed the Potomac from Maryland into Virginia, eluding capture for a total of eleven days before federal troops finally discovered him to be hiding on a farm belonging to Richard Garrett and surrounded the barn in which he and Herold were sleeping. The two men were ordered to surrender: Herold complied, but when Booth failed to drop his weapon and come out, the barn was set ablaze. A trooper named Boston Corbett, who was watching Booth through a gap in the barn's siding, shot the assassin. Whether Corbett can be said to have "assassinated" Booth is problematic -- the deeply religious Corbett sometimes claimed that he had shot Booth because "Providence directed" him to do it or because he "did not want Booth to be roasted alive," but he also testified that he shot Booth because he "saw [Booth] in the act of stooping or springing and concluded he was going to use his weapons."
Oswald left the warehouse from which he shot Kennedy and was arrested in a movie theater a little over an hour later by police officers who had no idea who he was. (Oswald was initially arrested only for the murder of Dallas police officer J.D. Tippit, whom he shot while in flight; his connection to the Kennedy assassination was not established until later.) Oswald was captured alive and remained in custody for two days before being gunned down by Jack Ruby, a private citizen.
Other differences: Booth was shot in the back in the neck and lived for another three hours; Oswald was shot in the abdomen and died within minutes of his arrival at Parkland Hospital.
A month before Lincoln was assassinated he was in Monroe, Maryland.
A month before Kennedy was assassinated he was in Marilyn Monroe.
This is a latter-day addition to the list and nothing more than a bit of salacious humor. Even as a humorous coincidence it fails the test, as Marilyn Monroe died well over a year before Kennedy's assassination.
So what are we to make of all this? How do we account for all these coincidences, no matter how superficial they may be, and why do so many people find this list so compelling?
The coincidences are easily explained as the simple product of mere chance. It's not difficult to find patterns and similarities between any two marginally-related sets of data, and coincidences similar in number and kind can be (and have been) found between many different pairs of Presidents. Our tendency to seek out patterns wherever we can stems from our desire to make sense of our world; to maintain a feeling that our universe is orderly and can be understood. In this specific case two of our most beloved Presidents were murdered for reasons that make little or no sense to many of us, and by finding patterns in their deaths we also hope to find a larger cosmic "something" that seemingly provides some reassuring (if indefinite) rhyme or reason why these great men were prematurely snatched from our mortal sphere