Happy Friday the 13th! We’ve got five fun facts all about the history of this superstitious day, straight from the book 13: The Story of the World’s Most Popular Superstition by Nathaniel Lachenmeyer, which we have here at the Library available for checkout if you’d like to learn more.
IT’S A UNIQUE, 20TH CENTURY CONCEPT
Friday the 13th gets a particularly bad rap because it combined two other superstitions; Fridays were generally considered unlucky, as was the 13th day of any month, whether it was a Friday or not. Because they were separate superstitions, until 1907 any reference to the day was either explicitly separate within a sentence, or written as “Friday, the 13th” with a comma rather than “Friday the 13th.”
FRIDAY THE 13TH: THE BOOK
This changed in 1907, when a Boston financier wrote a novel called “Friday, The Thirteenth,” which helped unify the two superstitions into Friday the 13th as we comprehend it. They even made the book into a silent film by the same name, with a different ending written by Academy Award winning screenwriter Frances Marion. The film has unfortunately been lost.
PUT A BELL ON IT
On October 12, 1939, the town board of French Lick, Indiana decreed that beginning at midnight and continuing for 24 hours, all the black cats in town had to wear bells, so residents could avoid them on the fateful day. The town marshal was assigned the task of belling the cats.
SUPERSTITION AIN’T THE WAY
In a national effort to educate the public about the dangers of superstition, the American Museum of Natural History in Manhattan held the First American Exhibition on Superstition, Prejudice and Fear for 13 days, beginning August 13, 1948. To enter, visitors had to pass underneath one of three giant ladders. A raft of open umbrellas was suspended from the ceiling. There were displays of spilled salt and broken mirrors, and silhouettes of black cats taped to the walls.
A 2002 study in the United Kingdom found that hospital admissions “due to transport accidents were significantly increased on Friday the 13th.” The study concluded that the “risk of hospital admission a a result of a transport accident may be increased by as much as 52 percent,” and ended with the following advice: “Staying at home is recommended.”