History of The Friday the 13th
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This Week in Sapulpa History – History of the Friday the 13th
Rachel Whitney, Curator, Sapulpa Historical Museum
A phobia is an anxiety disorder defined by a fear of something. “There seems to be a phobia for every imaginable fear. A fear of crowds is called demophobia and ochlophobia. The fear of close- in spaces is called claustrophobia. The fear of heights is called acrophobia, and the fear of death is called necrophobia and thanatophobia.”
The date of Friday the 13th, and the number 13 itself, has been deemed unlucky to some people. The fear of the date Friday the 13th and the number 13 is known as triskaidekaphobia, paraskavedekatriaphobia, and friggatriskaidekaphobia.
Friday the 13th occurs at least once a year. In some years, there have been multiple reassurances of the date. For example, this year in 2023 has two: January and October. “There can be no more than three Friday the 13ths in a single [Gregorian] calendar year.” The most common Friday the 13ths fall within February, March, and November. The last trio set was in 2015; the next trio set will be in 2026.
But superstition of the date stretches far back in time. The calendar day of Friday has a significant meaning by itself. “The negative association with Friday specifically has a combination of religious and cultural origins.” “In the 14th and 15th centuries, prominent figures and writers started to publicly denounce the day [of Friday] with little context as to why. George Chaucer’s ‘Canterbury Tales’ depicts Friday to be ‘a day of misfortune’ and playwright Robert Greene defined ‘Friday-face’ as ‘a sad look of dismay or anguish.’”
“In Spanish-speaking countries, instead of Friday, Tuesday the 13th is considered a day of bad luck. The Greeks also consider Tuesday an unlucky day” for Tuesdays are dominated by the influence of Ares, the god of war. Even the Fall of Constantinople occurred on Tuesday, May 29, 1453.
Friday the 17th is a superstitious date for Italian cultures. “In Italian popular culture, Friday the 17th is considered a bad luck day. The origin of this belief could be traced in the writing of the number 17 in Roman numerals [XVII]. By shuffling the digits of the number one can easily get the word VIXI, [“I have lived,” implying death at present] an omen of bad luck.”
The number 13 has an association of bad luck, as well. “Just like walking under a ladder, crossing paths with a black cat, or breaking a mirror…superstitions have swirled around the number 13 for centuries. While Western cultures have historically associated the number 12 with completeness (12 days of Christmas, 12 months and zodiac signs, 12 labors of Hercules, 12 gods of Olympus, and 12 tribes of Israel), 13 has a long history of bad luck.”
“The unlucky nature of the number 13 [may have] originated with a Norse myth about 12 gods at a dinner party. The trickster god, Loki, who was not invited, arrived as the 13th guest.” Loki was able to persuade a god to shoot and kill another with an arrow. “The whole Earth got dark. The whole Earth mourned.”
In another culture, “the superstition seems to relate to various things like the story of Jesus’ last super and crucifixion, in which there were 13 individuals present in the Upper Room on the 13th of Nisan Maundy Thursday, the night before his death on Good Friday.”
The superstition of Friday the 13th may not have started with certain historical events. “There are many theories that date back to earlier centuries…the real Friday the 13th hysteria started in the 20th century. Many date this back to Thomas Lawson’s 1907 book “Friday the Thirteenth.” “In the novel, an unscrupulous broker takes advantage of the superstition to create a Wall Street panic on Friday the 13th.”
One of the more believed stories on the fear of the date occurred 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.” Many of the members of Templar were executed.
Other historic dates around the superstitious date involve “the German bombing of Buckingham Palace, Friday, September 13, 1940…a cyclone that killed more than 300,000 people in Bangladesh, Friday, November 13, 1970; the disappearance of a Chilean Air Force plane in the Andes, Friday, October 13, 1972, the death of rapper Tupac Shakur, Friday, September 13, 1996,” and many others events.
This week in Sapulpa history, on January, Friday the 13th, 1989, members of the community shared their opinion on the infamous date. “Only two out of 18 area residents polled said they were superstitious. Some Sapulpa citizens were asked the question: what do you avoid on Friday the 13th?”
Some people would say that they would not walk under ladders, step on a crack in the sidewalk, or be seen near a black cat. “Lara Fortson, 17 of Sapulpa said she avoids black cats and anything out of the ordinary.”
“Mother and daughter, Anita and Kim West from Sapulpa, differed from their opinions.” Anita said she was not superstitious. Her daughter, Kim, said “‘I am superstitious. On Friday the 13th, I just try to stay in the house and stay away from everything.’”
The sixteen others in the poll said they were not superstitious, whatsoever. One person deemed the date a special, happy day. Dayle O’Dell, the Homeland manager, said, “‘I’m not really superstitious. My daughter was born on Friday the 13th and it’s the best thing that’s ever happened to me.’”
A number, day of the week, and the date holds a significant omen, good or bad, to some people; either in superstitions, a phobia, a historic event, a holiday, or a birthday, each person has their own opinion on the Friday the 13th.
“To those who are superstitious, the best policy is not spilling the salt in the first place, avoiding ladders, staying away from black cats, leaving the umbrella at home, and not stepping on cracks in the sidewalks.”
(Sapulpa Herald, January 13, 1989; CNN, December 13, 2019; History Channel, October 10, 2017; Wikipedia).
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The information found on this page has been researched through Sapulpa (and area) newspapers, Sapulpa Historical Society archives, books, and photographs, Sapulpa yearbooks, city directories, and other local authors. Any other sources will be labeled and named as the research continues. Any mistakes will be noted and adjusted as needed.