Unlucky Friday 13th, 1899

Friday 13th today, and I started wondering how long this idea of an unlucky tradition had been around. It sounds ancient, and apparently does have medieval origins in that, at least, Fridays and the number 13 were individually seen as being unlucky. But in the UK, in popular culture, it seems to be much more recent that I imagined.

I found this 1899 article from the London Morning Post, informing its readers of the tradition, which they describe as a piece of Belgian folklore. The Belgian people, being “exceedingly superstitious“, apparently tried to ensure their undertakings were as minimal as possible on the day, “few letters and telegrams will be despatched, the takings of shopkeepers will be small, journeys will be avoided, cabs and trams will be looked at askance, boats will be shunned like the plague, and the theatres will be deserted.

14th January 1899, London Morning Post

In 1899, as in 2017, the first Friday 13th of the year was in January. This, so the article says, means “an evil augury for the year, and the superstitious will inevitably say that we are destined to witness great disasters before twelve months have expired.” I’m not woo enough to be worried about Friday 13th as a rule, but with the Curious Orange being inaugurated (note the relationship with the word augury!) next week….well, that sounds about right.

17th January 1899, London Morning Post

I loved reading this, a letter sent to the paper a few days later, from a correspondent who is delighted to read of this superstition, having noted in their own lives the unluckiness of Friday and the number 13, and especially both together. “In short, as things stand, so great has my horror of the combination become that I fear ere Friday 13th October, I will have qualified for the coroner.”

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