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Ronald Reagan defied the mysterious, so-called '20-year curse'

The Midland Reporter-Telegram | June 11 2004

Beginning in 1840 and continuing through 1960 before the assassination of John F. Kennedy, presidents elected in every consecutive 20-year administration had died in office.

After narrowly escaping death following an assassination attempt in 1981, Ronald Reagan -- who lived to become the oldest U.S. president -- was the first to defy that disturbing trend.

As legend goes, this so-called '20-year curse' was supposedly cast by an unknown Indian chief. Others have attributed the phenomenon to astrology, whatever.

But this coincidence spanning the course of a century was difficult to dismiss.

It started with the death of former president William Henry Harrison, who died of pneumonia after being elected in 1840. Next, it was the assassination of Abraham Lincoln after his 1860 election, followed by the assassination of James Garfield who took office in 1880.

The 'jinx' carried well into the 20th century with the assassination of William McKinley, who was elected in 1900. Then there were Presidents Warren Harding and Franklin Roosevelt who died in office, elected in 1920 and 1940, respectively.

Finally, there was Kennedy -- the youngest president -- murdered on Nov. 22, 1963.

That makes seven of the eight presidents who died in office being elected in the 20-year cycle.

President George W. Bush was also elected in that cycle when he became the 43rd commander in chief.

So it appears this curse -- if there was such a thing -- has been broken.

As Americans have spent the last few days reflecting on the historical significance of our 40th president, I too have looked back on the 'Reagan Years,' as I recall them, from the perspective of a 12-year-old child.

A sixth-grader when Reagan was inaugurated in 1981, we had seen over a year of reports about the American hostages in Iran. Every night on the 6 o'clock news, there was a new number on-screen as the days tallied into months and beyond.

I'm far from a political or historical analyst, but I can tell you what I thought as a child when -- suddenly after 444 days -- the hostages were released on the very day Reagan was sworn into office.

Right or wrong, at least the perception to me -- a child who liked to watch the news -- was the American hostages were released because the Iranians were scared Reagan was going after them if they didn't release them.

Still six years away from voting age, I decided right then and there I liked Ronald Reagan.

Just a few months after taking office, our president was near fatally wounded when multiple shots were fired on the streets of Washington. Seeing that video footage on TV was horrifying for a child.

But the effect was worse for adults.

The assassination attempt opened up an old wound for my parent's and grandparent's generations as they remembered the chilling day when JFK was executed on the streets of Dallas.

Reagan, of course survived, and would go on to be my president from sixth grade through early college years. I observed him nominating Sandra Day O'Connor to become the first female justice of the U.S. Supreme Court.

And it was heartbreaking on Nov. 5, 1994 when Reagan disclosed to the nation he had Alzheimer's disease and talked about heading into the "sunset of his life."

Now that the sun has finally set for Ronald Reagan, let's hope his light will forever shine in history.