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Reverse the (Zero) Curse

When Ronald Reagan survived the attempt on his life on March 30, 1981, and went on to serve two full four-year terms, he broke what some people call “the year-ending-in-zero” curse.

It goes like this: Every President elected in a year ending in zero since 1840 had died in office.

William Henry Harrison, elected in 1840, died after one month in office of pneumonia; he also was our shortest serving President. On his inauguration day, then on March 4, he gave a two-hour speech without hat or topcoat, then rode through the streets of Washington. He was succeeded by John Tyler. (Remember Tippecanoe and Tyler too!)

Abraham Lincoln, elected in 1860, was assassinated a month into his second term, on April 12, 1865, by John Wilkes Booth. He was succeeded by Andrew Johnson.

James A. Garfield, elected in 1880, was assassinated in 1881 after only 199 days in office, succeeded by Chester A. Arthur. William McKinley, elected in 1896 and reelected in 1900, was mortally wounded in September 1901 and died eight days later, succeeded by Theodore Roosevelt.

Warren G. Harding, elected in 1920, died in 1923 of a heart attack and was succeeded by Calvin Coolidge. Franklin D. Roosevelt, elected to his third term in 1940, died early in his fourth term in April 1945 and was succeeded by Harry S. Truman.

And John … [ Read all ]

The National Archives–now in a novel near you!

Brad Meltzer’s new mystery novel—The Inner Circle, the no. 1 bestseller on the most recent New York Times list—is all about the National Archives.

“I came to visit and I fell in love. Truly,” Meltzer says in an interview about the book in the forthcoming issue of Prologue, the quarterly magazine of the National Archives.

“Lost history, secret documents, long-forgotten letters from Presidents and other big shots—all of which tell the true history of our nation. How could a history nut not fall in love?”

In The Inner Circle, an Archives staff archivist discovers an unusual document in a very strange place that leads him to some surprising revelations about the government. But while the story is fiction, the setting is not. To research The Inner Circle, Meltzer, who had always walked by the National Archives Building in downtown Washington, DC, while researching other novels, finally came in from the cold and shadowed staffers in many of the Archives’ divisions.

“I was most amazed by the fact that you still have people combing through documents from the founding of our country,” he says. And yes, he says, he’s more appreciative of the work people do to understand and keep safe the nation’s documents.

Have you read The Inner Circle? Meltzer says he was inspired by the people he met—did you recognize any of our … [ Read all ]

A hot dog for the King

Following upon the spate of movies in recent years about British female royalty (the Elizabeths and Victoria), we now have one about British male royalty, The King’s Speech, starring Colin Firth as George VI.

It focuses on George VI (the current monarch’s father) and his struggle to overcome stuttering and stammering, especially when he spoke in public.

He became King in late 1936, when his brother Edward VIII abdicated to marry the twice-divorced American Wallis Simpson. He also became the first reigning British monarch to visit the United States—in June 1939—just after a state visit to Canada.

After spending a few days in Washington, DC, the King and Queen traveled with President and Mrs. Roosevelt to Hyde Park, NY, the President’s home (and now the site of his Presidential library), where they had an American-style picnic at FDR’s retreat, Top Cottage.

On the menu were traditional American picnic fare, such as ham and turkey and strawberry shortcake—fit for a King. And FDR, the patrician with the common touch, also served their majesties the great American treat—hot dogs. And, yes, according to news accounts, the royals did indeed down their first-ever hot dogs.

The royals were delighted, and their visit helped cement U.S.-British relations just a few months before World War II began on September 1, 1939.

A complete account of the royal visit is on … [ Read all ]