November 2009


Calendars do not have a thirteenth month and clocks do not have a thirteenth hour. The numbers 1–12 have distinct names, but after that, prefixes and suffixes are used to name numbers. The earliest counting techniques included only ten fingers and two feet, so anything beyond 12 was a mystery. Eventually the number 13 got a bad name.


Three of the horse stalls at Santa Anita Park are numbered 12, 12B, and 14. Hospitals, airplanes, airports, tall buildings, numbered streets, and racecars routinely avoid naming anything with the number 13. Brussels Airlines’ original logo contained a 13-dot design, but travelers complained, prompting the airline to revise the design by adding one more dot. Proctor & Gamble products used to feature a trademark design showing a wizardly man and 13 floating stars. A 1980s urban legend claimed the design was satanic, forcing the company to abandon the trademark design.


Baseball players find the number 13 lucky – or maybe they find it unlucky for the opposing team.  Likewise, casinos sneak in the number 13 in surprising places. The ceiling design of one popular casino features 13 decorative panels on each side of a square area above the gaming tables. The tactic is not necessarily intended to bring luck to the casino but rather bad luck to players.


Sometimes the 13 stigma is overlooked or challenged outright. The Millard Fillmore Society celebrates the 13th and all but forgotten U.S. president. The Confederate Flag contained 13 stars, even though only 11 states seceded from the Union. The additional two stars recognized Kentucky and Missouri. (This creates an interesting contrast to the fact that the United States originally contained 13 colonies.) The 13th amendment to the U. S. Constitution abolished slavery. Two other would-be 13th amendments were presented earlier, but were not ratified. Interestingly, one of these was the 1861 Corwin Amendment intending to forbid any constitutional amendment that would interfere with slavery in any state.


In 1881, a Thirteen Club was formed in the United States, initially containing 13 members with the purpose to dine together on the 13th of each month. It took an entire year to gain the first 13 members, but its popularity spread quickly after that, and membership later included five U.S. presidents as honorary members. For added amusement, members would walk under a ladder when entering the room, and sit among piles of spilled salt.


Theories abound as to the origins of 13’s bad luck. One pervasive theory links it to the fact that Judas was the 13th guest to be seated at the Last Supper. Since the Crucifixion took place on a Friday, Friday the 13th is especially unlucky. This fear has an even longer name – friggatriskaidekaphobia.