Friday the 13th


Friday the 13th is considered an unlucky day in Western superstition. It occurs when the 13th day of the month in the Gregorian calendar falls on a Friday, which happens at least once every year but can occur up to three times in the same year.  In 2017, it occurred twice, on January 13 and October 13. In 2018, it will also occur twice on April 13 and July 13. There will be two Friday the 13ths every year until 2020.  Both 2021 and 2022 will have just one occurrence, in August and May respectively.


The superstition surrounding this day may have arisen in the Middle Ages, “originating from the story of Jesus’ last supper and crucifixion” in which there were 13 individuals present in the Upper Room on Thursday, the night before his death on Good Friday. While there is evidence of both Friday and the number 13 being considered unlucky, there is no record of the two items being referred to as especially unlucky in conjunction before the 19th century.

It’s been taken for granted that Friday the 13th is an unlucky day, but that wasn’t always the case. Until the late 1800s, no one felt that Fridays that happen to fall on the 13th day of the month were anything special at all.

Exactly how the date became mired in the mind as an unlucky one is murky. Certainly the idea was firmly implanted in the cultural consciousness by 1980, when the slasher flick “Friday the 13th” was released. The hockey-masked villain of that tale, Jason Voorhees, has taken on a life of his own, driving 12 films as well as multiple novellas and comic books. So it’s no surprise that a Google search of the phrase “Friday the 13th” finds the term shot up in use in books in 1980.

In the late-19th century, a New Yorker named Captain William Fowler (1827-1897) sought to remove the enduring stigma surrounding the number 13—and particularly the unwritten rule about not having 13 guests at a dinner table—by founding an exclusive society called the Thirteen Club.

The group dined regularly on the 13th day of the month in room 13 of the Knickerbocker Cottage, a popular watering hole Fowler owned from 1863 to 1883. Before sitting down for a 13-course dinner, members would pass beneath a ladder and a banner reading “Morituri te Salutamus,” Latin for “Those of us who are about to die salute you.”

Capt. William Fowler was a noted soldier who rubbed elbows with former presidents and other high-profile people of the late 1800s. Fowler noticed that the number 13 was woven throughout his life (he went to Public School No. 13 in New York City, for example, and fought in 13 Civil War battles), so he decided to combat the “popular superstition against thirteen,” according to his obituary.

Four former U.S. presidents (Chester A. Arthur, Grover Cleveland, Benjamin Harrison and Theodore Roosevelt) would join the Thirteen Club’s ranks at one time or another.

The idea that 13 was an unlucky number may go back to ancient mythology. According to Donald Dossey, author of “Holiday Folklore, Phobias and Fun” (Outcome Unlimited Pr, 1992), a Norse myth told of a dinner party for 12 gods at which a 13th guest showed up uninvited. The gatecrasher — the trickster god Loki — shot the god of joy and happiness, Balder. The Christian tale of the Last Supper likewise holds Judas, Jesus’ betrayer, as the “unlucky” 13th guest.

Friday has also been considered an unlucky day in Western tradition. E. Cobham Brewer’s 1898 “Dictionary of Phrase and Fable” claims Friday as the day that Jesus was crucified and perhaps the day that Adam and Eve ate the forbidden fruit in the Garden of Eden, according to Christian beliefs.

In 1907, author Thomas William Lawson put together the notion of unlucky Friday and unlucky 13 with the novel “Friday the 13th,” a tale of an unscrupulous broker taking advantage of superstition to game the stock market on that date, described as “Wall Street hoodoo-day.” Lawson may not have invented the idea of the unlucky date, but he likely spread the notion.

On Friday, October 13, 1307, officers of King Philip IV of France arrested hundreds of the Knights Templar, a powerful religious and military order formed in the 12th century for the defense of the Holy Land.

Imprisoned on charges of various illegal behaviors (but really because the king wanted access to their financial resources), many Templars were later executed. Some cite the link with the Templars as the origin of the Friday the 13th superstition, but like many legends involving the Templars and their history, the truth remains murky.

In more recent times, a number of traumatic events have occurred on Friday the 13th, including the German bombing of Buckingham Palace (September 1940); the murder of Kitty Genovese in Queens, New York (March 1964); a cyclone that killed more than 300,000 people in Bangladesh (November 1970); the disappearance of a Chilean Air Force plane in the Andes (October 1972); the death of rapper Tupac Shakur (September 1996) and the crash of the Costa Concordia cruise ship off the coast of Italy, which killed 30 people (January 2012).

(information from




Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s