Why is Friday the 13th supposed to be so unlucky? Nobody really knows for sure – which in itself is a little spooky! Though it is uncertain exactly when this particular tradition began, negative superstitions have swirled around the number 13 for centuries.
Proof of this longstanding negative association can be traced back to the ancient Code of Hammerabi, a Babylonian set of 282 laws and laws dating to 1750 BCE. A 13th rule was omitted. Was this proof or maybe just a clerical error?
Biblical tradition tells us that 13 guests attended the Last Supper, and one of them, Judas, betrayed Jesus. The next day was Friday the 13th, the day of Jesus’ crucifixion. This cements the superstition in Christian tradition. It has also been said that Eve gave Adam the fateful apple on Friday the 13th, and that Cain killed his brother, Abel, on the 13th.
The Victorians , always ready to embrace a new and exotic belief, had many superstitions surrounding the fearsome number. Besides the usual fear of bats, owls and sparrows, black cats, things occurring in threes, and breaking a mirror, our Victorian ancestors also believed that if thirteen people sat down to dinner, the first among them to rise would die at some point in the coming year. Hangman’s Day was also traditionally held on a Friday – a very unlucky day for some! And then there was their unflagging obsession with death….!
In the late 19th century, a New Yorker and man-about-town, Captain William Fowler, decided to try and remove some of the stigma surrounding the number 13 by founding an exclusive society called the Thirteen Club. The club members would dine regularly on the 13th day of the month in Room 13 of the Knickerbocker Cottage, a local watering hole, which Fowler happened to own. Before sitting down to a thirteen course dinner, the members would pass beneath a ladder adorned with a banner reading “Morituri te Salutamus, “ which means “Those of us who are about to die salute you.” A thirteen course dinner would probably do anybody in! The Thirteen Club had some
very prominent members at one time or another, including Chester Arthur, Theodore Roosevelt, Grover Cleveland and Benjamin Harrison. President Grover Cleveland was known as the second unhealthiest president, because of his corpulence and propensity for drinking large quantities of beer, so he probably relished the 13 course meal!
The diners, all dressed in black and wearing top hats, arrived to a table set with a large platter of lobster salad, molded in the shape of a coffin and surrounded by 13 crawfish. Black candles adorned the table, and goblets were ready for the first of thirteen toasts. Occasionally, they invited female guests, and presented them with favors – a vial of perfume with a human skull shaped stopper.
Mr. Fowler had quite a history with the number thirteen as well. He attended Public School 13, where he graduated at age 13. He built 13 public buildings, fought in 13 battles during the Civil War and founded 13 social clubs.
In more modern times, a number of traumatic events have occurred on Friday the 13th. They include the German bombing of Buckingham Palace, a Bangladesh cyclone that killed 300,000 people, the disappearance of a Chilean Air Force plane in the Andes, and the crash of the Costa Concordia cruise ship off the coast of Italy.
Reviewing these events, one might get a terrible case of friggatriskaidekaphobes – the fear of the number 13!