Morning Coffee: Friday the 13th

halloweenToday is Friday the 13th, and it’s October, which makes it all the spookier for those who believe in omens, superstition, and such things. Halloween winds down the month of October. We spend weeks watching horror movie marathons, visiting corn mazes and haunted houses while picking apples and pumpkins. Then we end the month by dressing our children in costumes and binging on an orgy of chocolate left over after all the little ghouls and goblins have gone home.

Two years ago, when this blog was new, I wrote about the history behind Halloween, but what’s the deal with Friday the 13th? There’s no clear information regarding when Friday the 13th became a tradition for bad luck; but negativity has surrounded the number 13 for centuries.

While the number 12 has historically been associated with completeness (12 Days of Christmas, 12 months and Zodiac signs, 12 labors of Hercules, 12 gods of Olympus, 12 tribes of Israel), the number 13 has been linked to the negative for almost as long.

The Last Supper is credited for the belief that 13 dinner guests at the table is a bad omen, that it tempts death. Consider it; there were 13 men seated at the Last Supper: the 12 apostles plus Jesus makes 13. Judas was one of the 13 and the next day, Good Friday, was the day Jesus was crucified. Could this also be what links the number 13 with Friday? Possibly.

Have you ever noticed the lack of a 13th floor in many buildings? Next time you’re in an elevator check to see if you can get off at the 13th floor. Technically there is a 13th floor because there certainly isn’t empty air between 12 and14, but people are reluctant to rent office space or a hotel room on the 13th floor so building owners often pretend it doesn’t exist for the sake of their bottom line.

New Yorker Captain William Fowler (1827-1897) founded the Thirteen Club to try and dispel the superstition behind the number 13, particularly having 13 dinner guests at a table. On the 13th of each month, 13 men would meet for dinner in room 13 of the Knickerbocker Cottage, a popular restaurant owned by Fowler from 1863-1883. Before sitting down to dinner, each guest had to walk beneath a ladder and sign that read Morituri te Salutamus, Latin for “Those of us who are about to die.” Most notable members, at different times, were four US presidents: Chester A. Arthur, Grover Cleveland, Benjamin Harrison, and Theodore Roosevelt.

Numerous books and movies, most notably the Friday the 13th franchise starring hockey mask-wearing Jason, have spawned from the superstition. For some, they feed the fear. For others, they’re just a bit of fun.

Yes, throughout history there have been bad things that happened on Friday the 13th; but unless the world is going to stand still for those 24 hours it’s inevitable that something bad is going to happen somewhere. Any other month of the year a Friday the 13th can pass with me hardly noticing. But, when it happens in October, well that’s just the icing on the cake.


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