August 13, 2021

Yesterday I was reminded by Melissa that today was Friday the 13th.  While we do not claim to be superstitious, we do seem to keep up on the relevant superstitions of “others.”  This superstition occurs when the 13th day of the month falls on a Friday.  This happens at least once every year but can occur up to three times in the same year.  During 2015 there were three Friday the 13th’s, 2017 through 2020 had two Friday the 13th’s, and 2021 and 2022 both have one occurrence each.  Friday the 13th occurs in any month that begins on a Sunday.   The longest period that occurs without a Friday the 13th is 14 months, and the shortest period that occurs with a Friday the 13th is just one month.  There seems to be a lot of regularity in our superstition.

I had mentioned last November 13th about going online to research the origins of Friday the 13th in Western superstition.  There are three suggested theories, and all revolve around a tragic meal and death.  While the origin is unclear, what is known is that there is no reference to the 13th being unlucky until the 19th Century.  An early documented English reference is Henry Sutherland Edwards’ 1869 biography of Gioachino Rossini.  “He [Rossini] was surrounded to the last by admiring friends; and if it be true that, like so many Italians, he regarded Fridays as an unlucky day and thirteen as an unlucky number, it is remarkable that on Friday 13th of November he passed away.”  It is possible that the publication in 1907 of Thomas W. Lawson’s popular novel Friday, the Thirteenth, contributed to at least a partially to disseminating the superstition.  The novel tells of an unscrupulous broker who takes advantage of the superstition to create a Wall Street panic on a Friday the 13th

While it was not on the 13th, Jay Gould (president) and Jim Fisk (vice president) of the Erie Railroad are credited as the masterminds of a gold buying scandal in 1869 that became known as Black Friday.  The pair tried to corner the gold market and the scheme was joined by others.  When Gould and Fisk heard that President Grant was set to break their corner, they began secretly selling off their gold.  When the market broke the price of gold fell from $160 to $133.  The stock market joined the plunge, dropping 20 percentage points, and bankrupting or inflicting severe damage on some of Wall Street’s most venerable firms.  Thousands of speculators were financially ruined, at least one committed suicide, foreign trade ground to a halt, and farmers saw the value of their wheat and corn harvests drop by 50 percent.  While the pair may have served as inspiration for Lawson 38 years later, the result did predict the vulnerability of the market that crashed in 1929.  That was on a Thursday.

Thoughts:  In Italian popular culture, Friday the 17th (and not the 13th) is considered a day of bad luck.  Friday the 17th occurs on a month starting on Wednesday.  The origin of this belief could be found in writing the number 17 in Roman numerals (XVII).  By shuffling the digits of the number one can easily get the Latin word VIXI (“I have lived”), implying death in the present and an omen of bad luck.  The number 13 in Italy was considered lucky, but due to Americanization, young people now consider Friday the 13th unlucky.  Superstitions are attempts to control the future, or at least avoid pitfalls.  Today, many hold superstitious ideas about the covid vaccine.  Instead of controlling their future, they are risking the future of others.  Follow the science.  Change is coming and it starts with you.

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