A Brief History
On September 13, 2019, we “celebrate” another Friday the 13th, the legendary bad luck spooky day, a day so scary an iconic motion picture franchise is based on its name! Just a note to make this year’s edition of Friday the 13th a little scarier, tonight we will experience a “Harvest Moon,” an event that has not coincided with a Friday the 13th since the year 2000. Oh boy, does this mean we have to deal with werewolves and vampires as well as general bad luck? At least we will be able to see with the light of a big old full moon…
Friday the 13th may have some basis in the fear of the number “13,” the iconic “unlucky” number. In fact, this fear is a real medical/mental recognized disorder, called “triskaidekaphobia.” People who take the fear a step further by fearing Friday the 13th are called “Paraskevidekatriaphobics.” (Say that 3 times fast!) Why do people fear the number 13 in the first place? Is it because the “fall” in the Garden of Eden occurred on a Friday? (How would we know that, anyway?) Because 13 people were present at The Last Supper? Because Jesus died on a Friday? (Fridays are also bad luck days, which is weird, considering many people get paid on Friday and Friday is a day of relief when the work week and school week usually end. After all, people do say “TGIF!”) The Knights Templar are said to have been the subject of a mass arrest, followed by executions, on Friday the 13th, October 13, 1307. Pre-Christian Romans and the English both used Friday as a day to execute people, which seems somewhat unlucky, at least for the condemned, but other societies seem to have taken Friday as a “lucky” day instead. A pre-historic fertility carving found in France exhibits 13 notches in a stick held by the fertility symbol. It seems things change over 27,000 years. Somewhere along the line, perhaps in the Middle Ages, Friday became associated with the Pagan or Satan worshipping “Holy Day.” Allegedly.
Do tall buildings really skip the 13th floor? This common urban myth is pervasive and spoken as if it were a verified fact amongst many people this author has known. In fact, it is both true and false, with many buildings apparently skipping the 13th floor while others bravely (foolishly?) go ahead and label the story above the 12th floor the 13th floor. A premier maker of elevators, the Otis Elevator Company, reports that as many as 85% of their customers that construct tall buildings skip the 13th floor! Wow! People really do take this number 13 thing seriously.
Religion is infamous for feeding into myths and superstitions, and the number 13 is no different. Hindus apparently believe it is bad luck for 13 people to congregate, and the Vikings claim 12 Gods sat at Valhalla to eat, excluding Loki, the troublemaking God that would have made #13.
So what about studying Friday the 13th? Is this day really unlucky, as verified by data concerning murders, accidents and death? In 1993 the British Medical Journal conducted a study comparing Friday the 6th with Friday the 13th and found an increased risk of being involved in a traffic accident on Friday the 13th. As much as a 52% increased risk of motor vehicle accident. Proof! Or maybe not “proof.” The BMJ is known to also carry spoof articles in its Christmas edition. About 21 million Americans admit to fear of Friday the 13th, so are they wrong or are the rest of us living in denial? Studies of Friday the 13th and the number 13 have provided conflicting and inconsistent data and results, so much so that no scientific correlation can be found between the number 13 or Friday the 13th with bad luck or tragedy. You are free to believe whatever you want. Of course, when you take a close look at any day of the week or any particular set of days, you can easily find a treasure trove of tragedies that have transpired on those fateful days, and Friday the 13th is no exception. Looking back over the dates that include falling on a Friday the 13th reveals numerous unlucky and tragic events, events easily found by doing some internet research, which we conveniently leave up to you. Why do we leave it up to you? Because you can pick any day, and find all sorts of “proof” that that particular day is “unlucky.” Many websites have already listed a bunch of bad things that have happened on Friday the 13th over the years, so browse and enjoy. But you can do the same compilation yourself by picking any other day! Try your birthdate, for example. (Then let us know if you find it is an “unlucky” day!)
Are you going to play it “safe” and stay home on Friday the 13th? Or are you going to tempt fate and venture forth, uncaring or oblivious to the “danger” of this special day? If you do go out, especially at night, be on the lookout for werewolves and vampire, just in case!
Question for students (and subscribers): Do you believe Friday the 13th or the number 13 is unlucky? Please let us know in the comments section below this article.
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For more information, please see…
Bracke, Peter. Crystal Lake Memories: The Complete History of Friday The 13th. Titan Books, 2006.
Varmon, Ron. Fear: How to Overcome Superstitions. CreateSpace, 2018.
The featured image in this article, a close up photograph of the nose insignia on Handley Page Halifax B Mark III, LV907 ‘NP-F’ “Friday the Thirteenth”, of No. 158 Squadron RAF, after returning to Lissett, Yorkshire, from its 100th operational sortie, a night raid on Gelsenkirchen, Germany, flown by Flight Lieutenant N G Gordon and crew, is in the public domain because it is a mere mechanical scan or photocopy of a public domain original, or – from the available evidence – is so similar to such a scan or photocopy that no copyright protection can be expected to arise. The original itself is in the public domain for the following reason: This work created by the United Kingdom Government is in the public domain.
This is because it is one of the following:
- It is a photograph taken prior to 1 June 1957; or
- It was published prior to 1969; or
- It is an artistic work other than a photograph or engraving (e.g. a painting) which was created prior to 1969.
HMSO has declared that the expiry of Crown Copyrights applies worldwide (ref: HMSO Email Reply)
See also Copyright and Crown copyright artistic works.