COLUMN: Friday the 13th...unlucky for some

If you’re superstitious, this week offers a chance to be gloomy, thanks to Friday October 13.

If you’re afraid of this day, you’re a triskaidekaphobic.

Annually, the financial world loses more than $900 million on Friday the 13th because even hard-nosed Stock Exchange traders go haywire, and many executives refuse to fly.

In a world of fake news, lies and conspiracy theories, some people imagine Friday 13th has its roots 710 years ago in the arrest, torture and destruction of the Knights Templar on Friday October 13, 1307.

However, the fear of Friday 13th is a Victorian invention which only began in 1852, yet the way it has affected some poor souls is amazing.

The composer Arnold Schoenberg was a triskaidekaphobic, born September 13, 1874.

Composing his opera Moses und Aaron in 1932, he counted the number of letters in the title - thirteen. So he dropped an ‘a’ and changed it to Moses und Aron. He believed he would die in his seventy-sixth year (seven plus six equals 13).

And so he did, in 1951, managing to pass away on Friday July 13, at 13 minutes before midnight.

Other people have taken Friday 13th less seriously. In New York on September 13, 1863, Captain William Fowler of the US Union Army bought a popular wining and dining hostelry, Knickerbocker Cottage. Fowler was educated at New York City’s Public School No 13 until 13 years of age.

During a career in construction, he built of 13 of the city’s notable buildings. As the Civil War began, he took command of 100 Union volunteers on April 13, 1861.

He fought in 13 major battles during the conflict until he was wounded, leaving the army on August 13, 1863. He ran the Knickerbocker for 20 years until finally selling it on Friday April 13, 1883.

Fowler founded the Thirteen Club.

In room 13 of Knickerbocker Cottage on Friday, January 13, 1882 at 8:13 pm, Thirteenth Club member Fowler assembled guests for dinner.

Each table had thirteen candles and each man had to walk under a ladder. Above this was draped a banner bearing the old gladiatorial declaration ‘morituri te salutamus’, ‘those who are about to die salute you.’

Salt cellars were tipped on their side, with instructions that salt should not be thrown over shoulders. Membership grew to 400 members, (including four US Presidents) always with tables of 13 diners, defiantly adding whatever new superstitions they could each year, such as bringing umbrellas and happily opening them indoors.

The club’s 1883 annual report gave the dreaded demon 13 a decisive middle finger, boasting: ‘Out of the entire roll of membership … whether they have participated or not at the banquet table, NOT A SINGLE MEMBER IS DEAD, or has even had a serious illness. On the contrary, so far as can be learned, the members during the past 12 months have been exceptionally healthy and fortunate.’

Captain William Fowler died peacefully in 1897 in his bed following a stroke. In today’s paranoid world stalked by fear and terror, we could do with a few more like him.

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