Now that we’ve gotten that whole Mayan calendar end of the world thing behind us, it is time for conspiracy theorists and doomsday hand-wringers to move onto the next big thing. And I imagine that will have to do with the year 2013 ending in the number 13.
For untold millennia, man has had an aversion to the number 13, known in some sinister circles as “a baker’s dozen.” The hours on the clock stop at 12, our egg cartons hold 12 eggs, and we have only 12 months in a year, all in our seemingly endless attempt to avoid the number 13.
There’s even a word for the fear of the number 13, “triskaidekaphobia,” which is only bad luck if you get it during a spelling bee.
In many skyscrapers, there is no 13th floor. The elevator goes directly from the 12th floor to the 14th floor. I’m no architect, but I really don’t think that is going to fool the trickster gods of bad luck.
Nope, if your apartment is on the 14th floor, you get the whole 13th floor gift basket of bad luck anyway.
But are years that end in 13 naturally given to incidents of misfortune? I did a little research on the year 1913 and found some ominous news items. On Oct. 14, 1913, the Senghenydd Colliery Disaster in South Wales killed 439 miners, making it the deadliest mining accident in the history of the United Kingdom. That certainly sounds like bad luck to me.
One month later, the Great Lakes Storm of Nov. 7 to 11 claimed 19 ships in the United States and Canada and sent more than 250 people to a watery grave. Yikes. More bad luck.
But there were also some really good times in 1913. Woodrow Wilson became president, Igor Stravinsky debuted his symphony, “The Rite of Spring,” and Harry Brearly patented “stainless steel,” forever making shaving your face (or legs) with a rusty piece of metal a thing of the past.
It appears that some places are taking this “13 year” thing more seriously than others. The Republic of Ireland annually produces vehicle license plates that begin with a two-digit numeral corresponding with the last two digits of the year. New cars bought in 2011 have license plates that begin with 11 and those purchased last year have plates that begin with 12.
Irish government officials worried that some motorists would put off buying a new car until 2014 in an attempt to avoid a license plate that began with 13, throwing the entire economy into a tailspin. They believe that they have solved the dilemma by producing new license plates with the number 131 for cars bought in the first half of 2013 and plates with the number 132 for cars bought in the second half of the year.
I wish I was making that up, but it’s true.
There was a time when Americans scoffed at such superstitions and tried to make them a thing of the past. In 1881, an influential group of Americans led by Civil War veteran Capt. William Fowler came together and formed a dinner group called the Thirteen Club. They first met on Friday, Jan. 13, 1881, when 13 people sat down to dine in room 13 of a New York cabaret. The guests walked under a ladder to enter the room and were seated next to piles of spilled salt.
Other Thirteen Clubs sprang up all over North America for the next four decades, and their numbers included five future presidents, from Chester A. Arthur to Theodore Roosevelt.
Eventually, the fad faded, and Americans returned to their superstitious roots.
In sports, athletes regularly avoid wearing the number 13. Dan Marino of the Miami Dolphins wore the number 13 and holds a boatload of passing records. But he never won a Super Bowl, the Holy Grail among pro football players. Quarterbacks Terry Bradshaw, Roger Staubach, Joe Namath, Bob Griese and Tom Brady all wore number 12. And they all have Super Bowl rings (Bradshaw has four and Brady has three so far) to show for it.
Of course, the greatest athlete of all time to wear the number 13 was basketball player Wilt Chamberlain. And if his biography, “Wilt Chamberlain: A View from Above,” was accurate about his dating life, he was, indeed, a most lucky 13.
Have a happy and lucky new year.