Fact check: A 1964 conspiracy theory misrepresents Lincoln and Kennedy's similarities

The claim: A list of similarities between Presidents Lincoln and Kennedy is beyond a coincidence

For more than 50 years, a list of misleading and inaccurate similarities between Presidents Abraham Lincoln and John F. Kennedy has been circulating.

Despite the list's many far-fetched and simply inaccurate similarities, new versions continue to resurface on social media decades later.

"Have a history teacher explain this if they can," a version of the list posted to Facebook begins. The post suggests a series of similarities are explainable and allude to some sort of mystery. In reality, the list is grasping at truth, at best.

In this Jan. 2, 1960, file photo, Sen. John F. Kennedy, D-Mass., formally announces at a news conference in Washington that he is a candidate for the Democratic presidential nomination. A handwritten draft Kennedy's announcement speech is among hundreds of items associated with the late president to be auctioned in January 2020, by the Boston-based RR Auction.
In this Jan. 2, 1960, file photo, Sen. John F. Kennedy, D-Mass., formally announces at a news conference in Washington that he is a candidate for the Democratic presidential nomination. A handwritten draft Kennedy's announcement speech is among hundreds of items associated with the late president to be auctioned in January 2020, by the Boston-based RR Auction.

The list's history

In August 1964, less than a year after Kennedy's assassination, Time magazine called the list a "compendium of curious coincidences.” Time reported the list had appeared a week earlier in the GOP Congressional Committee Newsletter to more than 15,000 readers.

Known as the "Lincoln and Kennedy Coincidences" to some and "Lincoln Kennedy Connection" to others, physical and digital versions of it have circulated ever since, including one post to Facebook on May 21.

The long-lived conspiracy has even earned itself a Wikipedia page. In 1966, musician Buddy Starcher released a popular song about the list called "History Repeats Itself."

Ford's Theater used the list to create an educational quiz that challenges students to rate each claim true or false.

Some have controversially used the list as evidence to support arguments for reincarnation.

“Despite DNA testing, a 100-year separation, and overwhelming popular belief, Lincoln and Kennedy were actually the same man,” Harvard’s Demon Magazine wrote, mocking the list.

In June 1999, Snopes took a swing at the conspiracy. Snopes broke down the list line by line, correcting several errors to find the similarities were superficial and misleading.

“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,” Snopes concluded. “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.’”

What the list gets right

Abraham Lincoln was elected to Congress in 1846 ... John F. Kennedy was elected to Congress in 1946 ... Abraham Lincoln was elected President in 1860 ... John F. Kennedy was elected President in 1960.

Lincoln was elected to Congress in 1846 and the presidency in 1860; Kennedy was elected to Congress in 1946 and the presidency in 1960. But it is a coincidence that their election years were 100 years apart. Federal elections occur only in even years.

Both were particularly concerned with civil rights.

Lincoln and Kennedy's involvement with civil rights had more to do with the cultural challenges during their presidencies than themselves as individuals.

Debates between abolitionists and slavery advocates created mounting tension for more than a century before Lincoln was elected. In 1854, Congress passed the Kansas-Nebraska Act, bringing tensions to a breaking point. In response, abolitionists created the quickly popular Republican Party and Lincoln was its first successful presidential candidate.

The Montgomery bus boycott, which is considered to have launched the Civil Rights Movement occurred in 1955 – five years before Kennedy was elected.

Both wives lost a child while living in the White House

Willie Lincoln died in 1862, at age 11, presumably from typhoid fever. Patrick Bouvier Kennedy died on 1963, two days after he was born prematurely.

The list does not acknowledge the differences in Willie and Patrick's ages and causes of death, nor mention that Lincoln had lost another son before becoming president.

Both Presidents were shot on a Friday

The chances these assassinations occurred on the same day of the week are 1-in-7. The list does not stress that the assassinations occurred 98 years apart, in different months or on different dates.

Both Presidents were shot in the head

The shared means of assassination – gunshot to the head – is unsurprising because the head is one of the most vulnerable parts of the body. Both presidents were seated when they were shot, which made their heads an especially vulnerable target.

The list leaves out that the presidents were shot at very different distances: Lincoln from point-blank range and Kennedy from hundreds of yards away.

Both were succeeded by Southerners named Johnson

Lincoln and Kennedy were succeeded by their vice presidents. It's unsurprising their VPs were Southern since Lincoln and Kennedy were both Northerners. Presidential candidates often chose running mates from different parts of the country to broaden their voter base.

Johnson, meaning "son of John" has historically been one of the most common surnames in America.

Andrew Johnson, who succeeded Lincoln, was born in 1808 ... Lyndon Johnson, who succeeded Kennedy, was born in 1908

Both vice presidents were born 100 years apart in 1808 and 1908 respectively. Like the fact that Lincoln and Kennedy were elected the same years, this is merely coincidence.

The list leaves out that the successors were sworn in 98 years apart and at different ages.

Both names are composed of fifteen letters

If you consider their middle names, John Wilkes Booth and Lee Harvey Oswald both had 15 letters in their names. Again, a coincidence.

Lincoln was shot at the theater named 'Ford.'... Kennedy was shot in a car called 'Lincoln' made by 'Ford'

Lincoln was shot in Ford's Theater, and Kennedy was shot while riding in a Lincoln Continental 4-door convertible made by Ford Motor Co.

What the list gets partially right

Both assassins were known by their three names

Booth, who assassinated Lincoln, was an actor and went by three names professionally. However, Oswald was a former Marine and only the press referred to him by three names.

Booth and Oswald were assassinated before their trials

Oswald was shot and killed while being transported to county jail two days after his arrest. "Assassinate" is applied to sudden or secretly planned murders (typically of important people) for political or religious reasons, according to Merriam-Webster. It is a stretch to say Oswald meets that definition. Booth was not assassinated but trapped in a burning building and shot by authorities after refusing to surrender. Calling this an “assassination” is far-fetched.

Lincoln was shot in a theater and the assassin ran to a warehouse... Kennedy was shot from a warehouse and the assassin ran to a theater

Similar to "assassinated," the list uses a liberal definition of "warehouse" to draw a misleading conclusion. Oswald did shoot Kennedy from a textbook warehouse before being arrested in a movie theater. Booth did shoot Lincoln in Ford’s Theater, but did not escape to a warehouse. He was captured and killed 12 days later in a tobacco barn in Bowling Green, Virginia. To draw this comparison is grasping.

What the list gets wrong and leaves out

Several of the highlighted similarities are coincidences. While Kennedy and Lincoln were elected 100 years apart, they were not born, married or killed 100 years apart, but the list leaves those dissimilarities out.

Lincoln's secretary was named Kennedy ... Kennedy's Secretary was named Lincoln.

Kennedy's secretary was named Evelyn Lincoln. However, neither USA TODAY nor Snopes has found any record of a secretary named Kennedy in the Lincoln White House. Lincoln’s secretaries were named John George Nicolay and John M. Hay.

Both were assassinated by Southerners

Booth was not a Southerner, but a Southern sympathizer born in Maryland, a Union state.

Oswald was born in New Orleans and spent his early life between Texas and New York. As Snopes points out, the fact that Oswald was Southern is unimportant because Kennedy’s assassination was not motivated by a regional divide.

John Wilkes Booth, who assassinated Lincoln, was born in 1839 ... Lee Harvey Oswald, who assassinated Kennedy, was born in 1939

The list gets Oswald's birth year correct, but falsifies Booth's to draw another 100-year comparison. Booth was born in 1838, not 1839.

A week before Lincoln was shot, he was in Monroe, Maryland ... A week before Kennedy was shot, he was with Marilyn Monroe

Marilyn Monroe died from a drug overdose in 1962, more than a year before Kennedy was assassinated in 1963.

Our rating: Partly false

We rate the claim there are explainable similarities between Presidents Abraham Lincoln and John F. Kennedy PARTLY FALSE because some of it is not supported by our research. There are points in this claim that are factually true. But similarities on this list are taken out of context, selectively chosen and sometimes fabricated to construct a falsified deeper meaning.

Our fact-check sources:

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This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Fact check: 1964 Lincoln-Kennedy list is only partly accurate