William Henry Harrison was elected President in 1840. A few months later, he became the first President to die in office, the result of giving a rambling inauguration speech in the rain.
Abraham Lincoln was elected in 1860. He was assassinated by an actor in 1865.
James A. Garfield was elected in 1880. He was shot and subsequently died of medical malpractice in 1881.
William McKinley was reelected in 1900. He was assassinated by a leftist in 1901.
Warren Harding was elected in 1920 and was murdered by his wife in 1923.
Franklin D. Roosevelt was reelected in 1940. He died of natural causes in 1945.
John F. Kennedy was elected in 1960. He was assassinated by a lone gunman in 1963.
The second President to die in office, Zachary Taylor, was elected in 1848 but died in 1850! (In his case, he was either poisoned or died of natural causes. It depends on which book you read.)
That is the Zero Curse. For a period of 120 years, any president was elected in a zero year died before the end of his term. Some people thought it was a coincidence. Some people thought it was a supernatural occurrence. Whatever it was, it was a strange piece of American history.
In fact, it even inspired a novel! The Zero Factor was published in 1980, presumably to capitalize on that year’s presidential election. The Zero Factor tells the story of Augustus “Gus” York, a Republican governor who is nominated for President after the convention deadlocks. Gus is honest, homespun, and naive. To everyone’s shock, Gus narrowly wins the election.
Gus is an ethical President whose moderate political stances manage to alienate every powerful person in the world. Not surprisingly, a group of evil rich people hire an assassin to take out President York. Will Gus be able to survive the zero factor!?
So, this may seem like a strange book to review for October and I’ll be the first to admit that I nearly scheduled this review for November. However, the book does feature three rather odd scenes where Gus is haunted by the ghosts of the zero year presidents. Those scenes are actually a lot of fun. I especially liked the description of Franklin Roosevelt’s ghost rolling around the Presidential bedroom while his eyes glow a ghostly yellow. Best of all, Gus gets advice from the ghost of my favorite scandalous president, Warren G. Harding! Thanks to President Harding and the gang, The Zero Factor can be classified as a book for October.
As for the rest of the book, it’s a well-written political thriller. At times, the book’s politics can be rather heavy-handed (why write about a Republican President if you’re just going to make him act like a Democrat?) and the portrayal of the gay assassin is dated and a bit cringe-inducing. But Gus is a likable character and I appreciate any book that takes the time to rehabilitate Warren Harding.
As for the Zero Curse, it was broken by the President who actually was elected in 1980, Ronald Reagan. George W. Bush continued to break it in 2000. (That said, both Bush and Reagan were targeted by potential assassins during their presidencies.) The next zero year election will be 2020, an election that looks like it’s going to involve a record number of elderly candidates.