I could never understand why the number 13 is seen in such a bad light. It can’t be too unlucky—it was the number chosen by legends Wilt Chamberlain and Dan Marino, it’s the number on the jerseys of future Hall of Famers Alex Rodriguez and Steve Nash, and there are 13 stripes on the American flag.
But no matter how many positives this odd number has lived through, it has been treated like a criminal. Go to most any hotel with more than 13 floors, and there will be no floor numbered 13. Eleven, 12, 14, 15…even in some of Temple’s residence halls, there is no room ending in 13. I live in Johnson Hall, and my floor goes from 812 to 814, leaving out the prime number in between.
The fear of number 13 has even been given its own name – triskaidekaphobia. Crazy.
At the basis of this phobia is Christianity. Supposedly, it was the 13th guest at the Last Supper that betrayed Jesus.
In contrast, other religions have found 13 to be an important number. In Judaism, when a child reaches the age of 13, he or she becomes an adult according to Jewish law, and is honored with a Bar or Bat Mitzvah.
Not many people suffer from triskaidekaphobia, but more do suffer from paraskavedekatriaphobia – the fear of Friday the 13th. And some take that fear to irrational extremes.
In 1960, Heinz von Foerster, founder of the Biological Computer Lab at the University of Illinois, where he taught from 1951 to 1975, claimed that Friday, Nov. 13, 2026, will be “Doom’s Day.”
In 2006, days before Friday the 13th, Colgate University’s president, Rebecca S. Chopp, talked about triskaidekaphobia at the annual convocation ceremony for freshmen. She explained the word before telling them that it was forbidden on Colgate’s campus.
“For Colgaters, 13 is lucky,” the president told the incoming class. “Our university is located at 13 Oak Drive, [and when] you take the first two numbers [of Colgate’s zip code, 13346], you have 13. Then if you add up the remaining three numbers, you have a sum of 13.”
Some could accuse Chopp of teaming up with local businesses, as research by the Stress Management Center and Phobia Institute in Ashville, N.C. shows that between $800-900 million is lost in business on Friday the 13ths, but Chopp had a great idea.
Sure, triskaidekaphobia and paraskavedekatriaphobia is a joke to me, but some people have unexplained fears. The number 13 doesn’t deserve to be the butt of one, though. Any phobia based on long ago, unproven stories shouldn’t exist.
Tomorrow’s the 13th. It’s not a Friday, but even if it was, it’s not to be feared. If one day my obituary says Friday the 13th, then it will just be a coincidence.
Jeff Appelblatt can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.