An inch can be the difference between life and death. Might it also be enough to break a curse 140 years in the making?
On March 30, 1981, a mentally disturbed 25-year-old from Colorado named John Hinckley, Jr. came within an inch of assassinating Ronald Reagan, sworn in as the 40th president of the United States just two months earlier. As Reagan exited a side door at the Washington Hilton, Hinckley fired a revolver six times at POTUS and his protective detail, critically wounding the president and three others.
Reagan was hit in the chest with a .22 caliber bullet that punctured his lung, but although he lost nearly half of his blood on the operating room table, he eventually made a complete recovery. Some say the unsuccessful assassination attempt broke a curse that had caused the death in office of every U.S. president elected at 20-year intervals starting in 1840: William Henry Harrison, Abraham Lincoln, James A. Garfield, William McKinley, Warren G. Harding, Franklin Roosevelt, and John F. Kennedy.
The bullet that entered Reagan’s lung missed his heart by a mere inch. White House press secretary Jim Brady was shot in the head and suffered a serious brain injury that left him disabled for the rest of his life. Bullets also hit a secret service agent and a Washington, D.C., police officer. Hinckley, who claimed he wanted to assassinate the president to impress actress Jodie Foster whom he had developed an obsession with, was found not guilty by reason of insanity and committed to St. Elizabeth’s Hospital in Washington.
Today, the site of the attempted assassination on T Street NW is relatively unchanged since 1981. The only major difference is in the passageway, known as the “President’s Walk,” through which Reagan exited the hotel, known by locals today as the “Hinckley Hilton.”
In 1981, the exit was completely exposed to the outside sidewalk and street, which gave Hinckley a clear shot at the president. After the attempted assassination, the hotel enclosed the area directly outside the passage so that a limousine could drive right up to the door and pick up its passenger with no exposure to the street beyond. Ironically, the original “President’s Walk” through which Reagan exited was constructed after the 1963 assassination of president John F. Kennedy, meant as a secure point of entry and exit for visiting dignitaries.