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Lincoln-Kennedy Coincidences: Why Do They Still Thrive On The Internet?

Lincoln Kennedy Coincidences

First Posted: 03/07/13 EST Updated: 03/07/13 EST

Since at least 2003, a list similar to the one below has been circulating the Internet incessantly, popping up every so often on people's Facebook feeds infused with speculation about the reasons behind the coincidences surrounding former presidents Abraham Lincoln and John Kennedy Jr.:

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.

The names Lincoln and Kennedy each contain seven letters.

Both were particularly concerned with civil rights.

Both wives lost their children while living in the White House.

Both Presidents were shot on a Friday.

Both were shot in the head.

Lincoln's secretary, Kennedy, warned him not to go to the theater.
Kennedy's secretary, Lincoln, warned him not to go to Dallas.

Both were assassinated by Southerners.

Both were succeeded by Southerners.

Both successors were named Johnson.

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

John Wilkes Booth was born in 1839.
Lee Harvey Oswald was born in 1939.

Both assassins were known by their three names.

Both names are comprised of fifteen letters.

Booth ran from the theater and was caught in a warehouse.
Oswald ran from a warehouse and was caught in a theater.

Booth and Oswald were both assassinated before their trials.

In January, Snopes presented a point-by-point refutation of these similarities. The complete take-down is here, but below are some highlights:

lincoln kennedy take down

Snopes also points out that there is no record of Lincoln having a secretary named Kennedy.

The list has been subject to mockery by one of Harvard's farcical Demon Magazine which included amazing similarities between the two Presidents such as "When Kennedy was shot, the car he was riding in was a Lincoln. Lincoln's last name was Lincoln," and "Both men (except Kennedy) were born in log houses."

Despite the fact-checking and mockery, the "coincidence" list refuses to die.

One reason may be what Scientific American's "Michael Shermer calls "patternicity," or people's tendency of finding "meaningful patterns in meaningless noise."

Shermer argues that humans are evolutionarily predisposed to looking for patterns in our environment. Our ancestors were those who were most successful at seeing real patterns and adapting to them, but this also means we're more likely to think we recognize patterns where none exist.

Perhaps this is what's happening when people are amazed by these Lincoln-Kennedy coincidences. They may at first seem meaningful, but, as Snopes argues, under closer inspection they don't speak to any meaningful patterns.