THE number 13 has had a bad reputation for a long time.
In Christian tradition there were 13 guests at The Last Supper, the 13th being Judas. Tradition also has it that Jesus was crucified on a Friday. Put Friday and 13 together and you have the double whammy of superstitions.
Friday used to be called hanging day as it was customary to execute criminals on this day. There were 13 steps up to the scaffold, 13 turns in a hangman’s noose and 13 pence and a halfpenny paid to the hangman. American pirate Albert W Hicks was hanged on Friday the 13th of July, 1860. He confessed to having murdered 100 people.
The sky’s the limit
It might be the safest way to travel but people stay clear of aeroplanes on Friday the 13th. Flight comparison website Jetcost.co.uk found that flight inquiries for this particular day dropped by up to 27 per cent. British Airways report fewer bookings but seat prices remain unaffected. BA, like Air France and Lufthansa, also skip row 13 in its cabins.
The worst Friday the 13th air crash occurred in October 1972 when Uruguayan Air Force flight 571 crashed in the Andes mountains.
The survivors were stranded on a mountainside at an altitude of 3,600 metres (11,800ft) with little food. It would be 72 days before they were rescued. Faced with starvation they were forced to eat the dead. Only 16 people of the original 45 passengers made it through this terrible ordeal.
In 1993 Dr TJ Scanlon and his colleagues from the Department of Public Health at the Mid Downs Health Authority in West Sussex counted all the cars on the southern section of the M25 and discovered that there were “consistently and significantly fewer motorists on the road” on a Friday the 13th. Despite that the risk of a traffic accident rose by 52 per cent. There was also a greater risk of ending up in hospital from other accidental injuries.
In Finland driving on Friday the 13th is riskier for women but not for men. When a doctor looked at a quarter of a century’s worth of death statistics he found that women were almost twice as likely than men to die in a traffic accident on this day.
Insurance company Norwich Union also revealed that they received more accident claims for Friday the 13th than on any other day. Underwriting manager Nigel Bartram said that “one reason could be that people alter their driving behaviour in response to a perceived “unlucky day”.
People generally do not get married on Friday the 13th. One couple who defied superstition met with disaster. Torrential rain caused their marquee to collapse, a toddler was rushed to hospital with a severe allergic reaction to the flowers and the wedding
Shop until you drop (or not)
Despite all the mayhem on the roads and busy hospitals Dr Scanlon found that shoppers still braved the dangers of the day to pop into the supermarket.
Other businesses report a big dip. The Stress Management Center and Phobia Institute estimates that almost a billion US dollars (£640million) in business is lost due to fear of Friday the 13th.
Sell, sell, sell!
Fridays are usually a good day for City traders – unless it is Friday the 13th. Researchers at the University of Miami discovered that the New York Stock Exchange gets jittery. They called it the Friday the 13th effect.
The effect has since been observed in stock markets around the world. The most dramatic example was dubbed Black Friday when on October 13, 1989, a buyout deal for UAL Corporation fell through causing what was then the second largest one-day fall on the Dow Jones index.
Trouble and strife
People generally do not get married on Friday the 13th. One couple who defied superstition met with disaster. Torrential rain caused their marquee to collapse, a toddler was rushed to hospital with a severe allergic reaction to the flowers and the wedding dance was interrupted by a smouldering amplifier belching smoke.
Newlyweds Michelle Moor and Daniel Joyce insisted that “everyone had an amazing time”.
Killers on the prowl
More murders are committed on Friday the 13th. One of the most famous was the murder of 25-year-old prostitute Frances Coles, pictured below left, on February 13, 1891. She was the last of the 11 Whitechapel murders that may have been committed by Jack the Ripper. Her body was found under a railway arch at Swallow Gardens in London’s East End. Her throat had been cut from ear to ear.
If you are still not convinced then join the club, the Friday the 13th Club. Over the years there have been several clubs convened to tempt fate, including one in London formed in the late 1800s. Members open umbrellas indoors, limbo under ladders, smash mirrors, spill salt and “play roulette” with Death. Folklore says that the 13th guest is doomed to die.
A black cat to dinner
South African diamond magnate Woolf Joel was shot dead in 1898 shortly after he gave a dinner at London’s Savoy Hotel. At the last moment a guest dropped out, leaving 13 at the table. Legend (and the BBC) says that it was also Friday the 13th. To avert further disasters one of the Savoy’s waiters used to sit in for the 14th guest until Kaspar, a black cat, pictured right, was carved in the Twenties. Since then diners have been encouraged to make room at their table for Kaspar if their party numbers 13.
Friday the 13th’s child
Gerald Gardner, the man behind the witchcraft-inspired religion of Wicca, was born on Friday, June 13, 1884 near Liverpool. Other people born on this day include Master of Suspense Alfred Hitchcock, born Friday, August 13, 1899 in Leytonstone, London. His first film Number 13 was cancelled due to cash problems. One in 214 people will be born on Friday the 13th.
Lucky for some
Cashing in on this day has netted the Friday The 13th horror franchise – 12 films, a television series, novels, comics and merchandising – an unholy amount of money. The films alone have grossed more than $465m (£297m) at the box office. Merchandise, including a board game with fake blood capsules, has added another $125m (£80m). That the movies have made it big on this day should come as no surprise. The famous Hollywood sign overlooking Los Angeles was reputedly unveiled on Friday, July 13, 1923.
In 2010 a 13-year-old boy was watching a Red Arrows display over Lowestoft, Suffolk, when he was struck by lightning. The ambulance team that rushed to his aid recorded the time as 13:13. It was also Friday the 13th.
Friday the 13th really is unlucky for some. After looking at the evidence, researchers for the Mid Downs Health Authority, West Sussex, concluded that “it might be safer to stay at home”.
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