13 Facts, Fictions & Superstitions About Friday the 13th

Friday the 13th, that most sinister of dates, that most dreaded of desk-calendar pages, returns this week to renew its reign of terror over the superstitious among us. To celebrate, we’ve lined up a special app-assisted Fright at the Met Scavenger Hunt this Friday evening, March 13, to introduce brave New Yorkers to the creepier side of art.

And because we don’t want you stumbling into black cats or stepping blithely on sidewalk cracks at the end of the week, we present a list of 13 pieces of trivia, some true and some truly trivial, surrounding Friday the 13th. (Spoiler alert: It’s really 12 pieces of trivia and one shameless plug.)

1. Those who truly fear Friday the 13th suffer from paraskevidekatriaphobia. If you’re terrified specifically of the number 13, that’s triskaidekaphobia.

Watson Adventures The Last Supper
2. Pinning down the origin of Friday the 13th as a superstition is tough, because opinions vary. Some suggest its beginnings lie in the Bible. At the Last Supper, Jesus dined with 13 guests on a Thursday and then died the following day, Good Friday. (Image via Wikipedia)

3. Others point to Norse mythology. As one tale would have it, 12 gods enjoyed a banquet in Valhalla (we guess on a Friday?) until Loki, god of mischief, turned up uninvited, bumping the guest list up to 13. The ensuing chaos (all Loki’s fault) resulted in the death of Balder, god of light and purity, which really brought down the party vibe.

4. Still others think French King Phillip IV rounded up and tortured a bunch of Knights Templar on Friday, Oct. 13, 1307. (A little book called The Da Vinci Code popularized that one.)

5. In 1881, 13 people came together to form the Thirteen Club, which had one goal: to improve the reputation of the number 13. According to Time magazine, “At the first meeting, the members…walked under ladders to enter a room covered with spilled salt. The club lasted for many years and grew to more than 400 members, including five U.S. Presidents: Chester Arthur, Grover Cleveland, Benjamin Harrison, William McKinley, and Theodore Roosevelt.” Guess their work didn’t pay off.

6. In other Roosevelt news, Franklin Delano reportedly refused to travel on the 13th of any month or to eat with 13 people at a table.

7. Sinister associations with the number 13 abound. A hangman’s noose sports 13 coils of rope (well, anywhere from eight to 13)! But most of them seem like bunk, including the popular myths that gallows had 13 steps (nope, 12) and guillotines fell from a height of 13 feet (more like 14 and change, at least in France).

8. It is true, though, that something like 90 percent of U.S. skyscrapers don’t have a 13th floor. Society’s full of stuff like that: San Francisco doesn’t have a 13th Avenue—Funston Avenue lies between 12th and 14th—and on some of our Greenwich Village hunts, you’ll notice a 12 1/2 Leroy St. instead of 13.

9. Fridays and 13s are bad news all over the world. Italy, for example, doesn’t use the number 13 in its lottery. And in France, unlucky hosts can pay to hire a professional 14th party guest, or a “quatrorzieme.”

10. Not everybody hates ’em, though. Ancient Egyptians revered the number 13, and it’s a sacred number in Judaism. And for Muslims, Friday’s a day of prayer.

11. Supposedly people with 13 letters in their name have “the devil’s luck”: Charles Manson, Saddam Hussein, Jeffrey Dahmer, Theodore Bundy, Vladimir Putin. Of course, that would include the likes of George Clooney, Angelina Jolie, Luke Skywalker and Cookie Monster, so yeah. (Image via Wikipedia)

12. In 1984, a totally sane, well-adjusted guy named Malcolm Rivera founded the Triskaidekaphobia Illuminatus Society to gather people who believe the number 13 has the power to affect global events. It disbanded before its 13th anniversary (naturally).

13. Here’s one verifiable fact about Friday the 13th: Join our special Fright at the Met app hunt on the evening of Friday the 13th and you’ll have a chillingly good time—if you dare, or whatever.