The origins of the superstitions associated with Friday the 13th are unclear, though many believe that they come from the mash up of two unlucky things: Fridays, and the number 13. Friday was the day Jesus was crucified, according to scripture, and the day Adam and Eve ate the apple, and were banished from Paradise. It was also the day reserved for public hangings in Britain.
There are just as many theories on why the number 13 became unlucky. For instance, some believe Judas was the thirteenth guest at the Last Supper, and we all know how that turned out. In Norse mythology, a story goes that twelve of the Gods were having a nice supper, when Loki, known for his mischevious ways, shows up uninvited, and tragedy ensued when he convinced Hind, the blind God of winter, to shoot Balder the God of joy, with an arrow. Balder died, and the world, devastated by his death, plunged into darkness.
There were 13 steps up to the gallows, witches are said to gather in groups of 12, with the devil being number 13, and 13 comes right after 12, which is considered to be a number associated with wholeness.
While not everyone suffers from friggatriskaidekaphobia, there is estimated to be around 21 million people living in the United States with an irrational fear of Friday the 13th. Sometimes though, that fear turns out to be kind of rational.
In 1993, a study was done by the British Medical Journal that concluded that while fewer people tend to drive on Friday the 13th, hospital admissions due to traffic accidents rise an estimated 52 percent on that date.
One superstition states that it is unlucky for ships to set sail on Friday the 13th, and, at least for a couple of ill-fated ships, that particular superstition seems to ring true. The HMS Friday, a ship that was constructed in the 18th century, specifically to debunk the myth, may have pushed its boundaries too far. Construction began on a Friday the 13th, the ship was named after the unlucky day, a captain by the name of Jim Friday was hired to man her, all her crew were hired on a Friday, and, as she set sail on her maiden voyage in 1796 on — that’s right — a Friday, she vanished without a trace. In more recent years, the Costa Concordia wrecked off the coast of Italy on January 13, 2012, which happened to be a Friday.
It is said that it’s bad luck fly on Friday the 13th, and that proved accurate for Argentina’s Montevideo rugby club, whose plane crashed in the Andes mountains on their way to a game in Chile on October 13, 1972. Their plight, which included having to eat their dead teammates in order to survive, was the basis for the movie Alive.
Bob Renphrey, probably the unluckiest man of all time, was a retired bus driver from Wales before his death in 1998. After years of bad luck following him on Friday the 13th, which included five car crashes, being run over by a motorcycle, walking through a plate glass door, losing his job, and falling into a river, he decided to never again leave his bed on those days. As a final tribute to Bob after his death, his widow decided to book his funeral for Friday the 13th that March. Ever unlucky, it seemed that all the undertakers were too busy on that day. Hopefully he had a sense of humor.
Another friggatriskaidekaphobic was New Yorker Daz Baxter, who refused to even leave his bed on a Friday the 13th in 1976. Alas, it seemed he didn’t have to, and that bad luck was bound to find him no matter what, when his floor collapsed, and he dropped six stories to his death.
For you sports fans out there, you may remember that Dan Marino wore the number 13 for his entire career with the Miami Dolphins. He also wore the same number on his jersey when he played in college. He’s been called the best quarterback to never win the Superbowl. What’s even more ironic is that in 2000, during the half-time ceremony where they were retiring Marino’s jersey, a hurricane hit South Florida.
Though not everyone may be superstitious, you can find instances of avoidance of the number 13 everywhere in society, and the world as a whole: Airports won’t have a gate 13, more than 80 percent of high-rise buildings don’t have a thirteenth floor, and hotels and hospitals often won’t have rooms with the number 13. In Florence, Italy, house numbers go from 12 1/2 to 14; in Paris, France, there was once a group of socialites that called themselves les quatorziens (which translates to “the fourteeners”), who dedicated themselves to being available to act as a fourteenth guest for dinner parties who only had 13 guests invited; and in 1881, an organization called the Thirteen Club was formed in an attempt to take the bad luck out of the number. Its members, which included Chester Arthur, Grover Cleveland, Benjamin Harrison, William McKinley and Theodore Roosevelt, spent their first meeting walking under ladders, and into a room covered in spilled salt.
Considering the bad connotations to the number itself, as well as the date Friday the 13th, I think it’s safe to say that despite their good intentions, the Thirteen Club were unsuccessful.