A popular list of coincidences surrounding Presidents Lincoln and Kennedy has been circulating for decades, going all the way back to 1964. Surprisingly, the list has changed very little since then. Here we present a scorecard of the list’s accuracy.
There have been many attempts over the years to explain the coincidences below, almost to the point of contention by some writers. Those who go to such an extent are missing the point that most people do understand that these are just coincidences, but nevertheless still find them interesting. It is generally understood that they’re just coincidence, and often the circumstances surrounding them were completely different.
When two people meet, for example, and find they share the same birthday, they certainly realize it is purely coincidence, but is there harm in marveling at such coincidence anyway? Writers who go out of their way to dismiss the list seem to have missed the fun in finding coincidences that don’t necessarily mean anything.
The list below does contain some true coincidences between Presidents Lincoln and Kennedy. Are they unnatural or beyond mere coincidence? Certainly not. Do people still find them interesting? The longevity of the list answers with a resounding yes.
So without further delay, we present the list of Lincoln-Kennedy coincidences, and our score of the accuracy for each one. We’ll assign a true, false, or mixed/misleading label to each and tally them up at the end. Keep in mind that the list has seen slight variations over the years, and we’ve tried to include the most popular ones being circulated today.
We’re not trying to explain why the following coincidences might exist, or attempting to resolve them by insisting that “Johnson” is a common name, for example. Most people realize that being born 100 years apart or having a common-named VP aren’t extraordinary coincidences. We also realize that the circumstances surrounding many of the coincidences are vastly different. Our goal here, however, is to merely keep score and let the reader decide if they find anything impressive or not.
- Abraham Lincoln was elected to Congress in 1846.
John F. Kennedy was elected to Congress in 1946.
- Lincoln failed to win the Vice Presidential nomination in 1856.
Kennedy failed to win the Vice Presidential nomination in 1956.
- Abraham Lincoln was elected President in 1860.
John F. Kennedy was elected President in 1960.
- Both were with their wives when they were assassinated.
- Lincoln defeated Stephen Douglas who was born in 1813.
Kennedy defeated Richard Nixon who was born in 1913.
- Both were particularly concerned with civil rights.
Mixed – Civil rights is an issue all presidents face, so it is debatable if these two presidents’ civil rights agendas were extraordinary.
- Both wives lost children while in the White House.
- Both Presidents were shot on a Friday.
- Both Presidents were shot in the head.
- Lincoln’s secretary was named Kennedy.
Kennedy’s secretary was named Lincoln.
False – There is no evidence that Lincoln had a secretary named Kennedy.
- Both were assassinated by Southerners.
False – John Wilkes Booth was a Confederate spy and sympathizer, but he was from Maryland.
- Both were succeeded by Southerners.
- Both Presidents had Vice Presidents named Johnson.
- Lincoln’s Vice President was called Andrew Johnson who served in the House of Representatives in 1847.
Kennedy’s Vice President was called Lyndon Johnson who served in the House of Representatives in 1947.
Misleading – Johnson served in the House from 1843 through 1853. Johnson’s House tenure lasted from 1937-1949. There is no clear correlation between their dates of service nor their election to the House. They were both in the House in ’43 through ’49 if you want to be specific on the years they “overlapped”, but even that seems to be reaching for a coincidence.
- Andrew Johnson, who succeeded Lincoln, was born in 1808.
Lyndon Johnson, who succeeded Kennedy, was born in 1908.
- John Wilkes Booth, who assassinated Lincoln, was born in 1839.
Lee Harvey Oswald, who assassinated Kennedy, was born in 1939.
False – Booth was born in 1838.
- Both assassins were known by the three names. Both names are composed of fifteen letters.
Mixed – Both assassins are now known by their three names, but neither was during his lifetime. Both full names do contain 15 letters.
- Lincoln was shot at the theater called “Ford.” Kennedy was shot in a car named “Lincoln”, made by Ford.
- Booth ran from the theater and was caught in a warehouse.
Oswald ran from a warehouse and was caught in a theater.
Mixed – It’s a stretch to call the barn at which Booth was caught a “warehouse.”
- Booth and Oswald were assassinated before their trials.
True – Although the use of the word “assassinated” is a stretch. “Killed” would have sufficed.
- A week before Lincoln was shot, he was in Monroe Maryland.
A week before Kennedy was shot, he was with Marilyn Monroe.
False – Marilyn Monroe died over a year before Kennedy’s assassination, and it’s unclear if a “Monroe, Maryland” has ever existed. This coincidence appears to be a later addition to the list above.
True = 13
False = 5
Mixed or Misleading = 4
Modern lists usually omit the following item which was found in some versions from the 1960s:
Lincoln approved “In God We Trust” for two-cent pieces starting in 1864.
Kennedy approved “In God We Trust” for all coins started in 1964.
False – The motto was slowly adopted almost continuously through the 1950s on coins and paper currency
If you ignore the mixed/misleading and bonus coincidences, the list has 13 accurate assertions and 5 false ones for an accuracy rate of 72.2%.
The Google Trends graph below shows interest in “Lincoln-Kennedy coincidences urban legend” going back to January of 2004. Interest in the Lincoln-Kennedy coincidences appeared to experience peaks in January and November of 2013, yet curiosity in relation to this subject seems to remain fairly constant over time.
It would be easy to pick any two Presidents and generate a similarly impressive list of coincidences, but that hasn’t stopped the fascination with the list above. So do the coincidences above mean anything? Not necessarily. But after 50+ years in circulation, however, they have proven to hold the interest of many.
Updated June 1, 2016
Originally published January 2013