The Strange Superstitions of American Presidents, Revealed
Many U.S. presidents have believed superstitions despite others deeming these notions silly and meaningless. Even the most powerful leaders in the world have accepted some irrational things. These are the presidents whose superstitions dictated their lives. Even President Trump has a weird tradition after every meal (page 10).
1. Barack Obama: played basketball to win votes
- Fun fact: Obama’s good luck charm was a medal of a Hindu god.
Barack Obama told 60 Minutes, “We realized that we had played basketball before Iowa and before South Carolina,” according to Politico. “We didn’t play basketball before New Hampshire and Nevada. And so now, we’ve made a clear rule that on Election Day, I have to play basketball.”
Next: An odd phobia kept this president in control.
2. Richard Nixon: avoided hospitals
- Fun fact: Nixon loved to bowl and built a one-lane alley in the basement of the White House.
Richard Nixon believed if he entered a hospital he would not exit alive. This medical phobia, nosocomephobia, made him even refuse treatment for blood clots. At 81 years old, he passed away from a stroke at New York Hospital’s Cornell Medical Center.
Next: This president saw stars.
3. Ronald Reagan: consulted an astrologer
- Fun fact: Reagan loved jelly beans and liked to feed the squirrels outside the Oval Office.
Nancy Reagan hired astrologer, Joan Quigley, to plan her husband’s schedule after an assassination attempt, reports the LA Times. Quigley guided their agenda concerning diplomacy issues, Cold War meetings, and even Ronald Reagan’s cancer surgery. When the press revealed the White House’s involvement in astrology, the Reagans downplayed it.
Next: This president hung a good luck charm in the White House.
4. Harry Truman: horseshoe in the oval office
- Fun fact: President Dwight D. Eisenhower replaced Harry Truman’s horseshoe pit with a putting green.
Truman put a horseshoe over the door to his White House office. He also installed a horseshoe pit on the White House lawn, reports The New York Times. Horseshoes are a symbol of good luck and typically hung over the entrance to a home.
Next: Many presidents felt a special presence in the White House.
5. George W. Bush: believed in ghosts
- Fun fact: Winston Churchill, Eleanor Roosevelt, and many other famous figures allegedly saw ghosts in the White House, too.
As a young boy, George W. Bush supposedly saw ghosts exiting the walls near the Lincoln Bedroom at the White House. He described the White House as “creepy.” During Bush’s presidency, the White House website detailed the historic site’s ghosts.
Next: Flying saucers in this president’s past
6. Jimmy Carter: saw a UFO
- Fun fact: When Jimmy Carter was young, he shot his sister in the behind with a BB gun after she threw a wrench at him.
In 1969, Carter saw a red and green “orb,” believed it was a UFO, and filed a report with the International UFO Bureau in Oklahoma. A decade later while serving as president, Carter claimed to see a vicious rabbit on a solo fishing trip but his staff brushed it off.
Next: Seven presidents died at the hands of this superstition.
7. John F. Kennedy: the curse of the ‘
Every president elected at 20-year intervals between 1840 and 1960 died in office, according to The Encyclopedia of Superstitions. This included William Henry Harrison (1840), Abraham Lincoln (1860), James A. Garfield (1880), William McKinley (1900), Warren G. Harding (1920), Franklin Delano Roosevelt (1940), and John F. Kennedy (1960). Elected in 1980, Ronald Reagan finally broke the curse by surviving his two terms in office.
Next: One president believed in this strange and delicious superstition.
8. Gerald R. Ford: baking contest to decide the presidency
- Fun fact: Michelle Obama lost the contest to Cindy McCain but Barack Obama became president.
President Gerald Ford believed “the election would be won by whichever candidate’s wife won the Family Circle baking contest,” reports Smashing Lists. His wife, Betty Ford, won the contest with her double chocolate chip cookie recipe. Although her husband eventually became president, it wasn’t until after Richard Nixon resigned. Rosalyn Carter, Nancy Reagan, Barbara Bush, Hillary Clinton, and Laura Bush all won the contest and their husbands were elected president.
Next: Two presidents suffered from a disease called triskaidekaphobia.
9. Franklin D. Roosevelt: afraid of the number 13
- Fun fact: Franklin Delano Roosevelt served as president the longest. (In 1951, the 22nd Amendment limited presidents to two terms.)
FDR feared the number 13 — a phobia called triskaidekaphobia. He avoided traveling on Fridays and the 13th day of each month, reports the Washington Post. President Herbert Hoover also had the same affliction and would not dine with 13 people.
Next: Trump does this after every meal.
10. Donald Trump: threw salt over shoulder
- Fun fact: Trump’s dad sent him to military school at the age of 13 for misbehaving.
President Donald Trump has been known to throw salt over his left shoulder after meals, according to The New York Times. And he’s described himself as a “very superstitious person.” The notion itself originates from the belief that the devil lurked behind you. The salt supposedly distracted the devil from causing harm.
Next: One good luck charm wasn’t enough for this person.
11. John McCain: wore “lucky” dress shoes from L.L. Bean
- Fun fact: His nicknames included “Punk” and “McNasty.”
The late John McCain, who ran for president in 2008, admitted to being very superstitious. In addition to wearing “lucky” dress shoes, he ate BBQ prior to debates, reports The Week. McCain’s daughter Meghan told People he used to go to an early-afternoon movie on every election day. He also had three good-luck charms: a feather from a tribal leader, a compass, and a 1976 bicentennial quarter.
Next: A first lady’s superstitious confession
12. John F. Kennedy: church attendance
- Fun fact: JFK donated both his congressional and presidential salaries to charity.
Shortly after her husband John F. Kennedy’s assassination, Jackie Kennedy admitted his perfect church attendance was more of a “superstition” than anything else. She told historian Arthur Schlesinger Jr. that her late husband took about three seconds to pray and cross himself before bed every night as an additional precaution.
Next: This person always did the same thing on Election Day.
13. Dick Cheney: always hunted on Election Day
- Fun fact: Cheney’s daughter, Liz, now holds his former seat in Congress.
Former Vice President Dick Cheney spent every Election Day hunting. But his election-day ritual may have ended after he accidentally shot another hunter in South Texas. The 78-year-old victim was hospitalized for pellets in his torso and face, but the wounds weren’t life-threatening.
Next: A family death motivated this superstition.
14. Calvin Coolidge: breaking a blister
- An animal-lover, Calvin Coolidge owned dogs, cats, birds, and raccoons while in the White House. He received a wallaby, pygmy hippo, and two lion cubs as gifts, but sent them to the National Zoo.
In 1924, President Calvin Coolidge’s son, Calvin Jr., got a blister while playing lawn tennis with his brother, according to The Encyclopedia of Superstitions by Richard Webster. Calvin Jr. broke the blister and developed a fever. He passed away later that week, with doctors noting he had a Staph infection, which likely resulted in sepsis.
Next: The president gave this to strangers for good fortune.
15. William McKinley: always wore a red carnation
- Fun fact: McKinley was the last president to take part in the Civil War, according to 10 Facts About.
President William McKinley always wore a red carnation on his lapel, according to Pitlane magazine. He gave away his lucky carnation if he thought someone needed luck and replace his with a new carnation. McKinley gave away his good luck charm at the Pan-American Exposition in Buffalo, New York. During the event, Leon Czolgosz shot McKinley who died on September 14, 1901.
Next: This president predicted his death.
16. Abraham Lincoln: experienced visions
- Fun fact: Lincoln also had a fear of the dentist.
Abraham Lincoln claimed to have visions of the future, according to What Lies Beyond. Abe accurately predicted his death when he dreamed of seeing his dead body and a soldier saying him he had been assassinated — then saw two versions of himself in a mirror. He took this to mean “he would be elected to a second term, but would not survive it.”
Next: This superstition still might plague presidents.
17. William Henry Harrison: Curse of Tippecanoe
- Fun fact: Abraham Lincoln, James Garfield, William McKinley, Warren G. Harding, Franklin Roosevelt, and John F. Kennedy all were supposedly touched by the curse.
The curse, known by other names like the 20-year curse, goes like this: According to Thought Co., a dispute between President William Henry Harrison and Shawnee Indian leader, Tecumseh, may have been the reason presidents died who were elected or re-elected in years ending in zero.
Next: One president made an odd request regarding his dead body.
18. George Washington: thought he’d be buried alive
- Fun fact: No one will ever rank higher than Washington in the U.S. military, according to Mental Floss.
On his deathbed in 1799, George Washington expressed his fear of being buried alive, according to What Lies Beyond. He insisted his body be untouched for two days after his death to ensure he wasn’t buried alive. Common during the 18th century, this fear, formally known as taphephobia, came about likely due to the dead being buried very quickly as bodies weren’t embalmed.
Next: This president’s superstition probably made him extremely productive.
19. Ulysses S. Grant: never looked back
- Fun fact: Grant hated wearing his military uniform, according to History.com.
President Ulysses S. Grant had an unusual superstition that probably served him well as president. “Everyone has his superstitions. One of mine has always been when I started to go anywhere, or to do anything, never to turn back or to stop until the thing intended was accomplished,” Grant said, according to Pitlane magazine.