Whether or not you believe in superstitions, we thought it’d be fun to find 13 actual instances in history where Friday the 13th turned out to be a really unlucky day.
While we don’t personally believe there’s anything special or cursed about Friday the 13th, our look into the day’s history is sure to add some fodder to the superstition fire.
1307 — Crusaders Were Tortured
On October 13, 1307, King Philip IV of France ordered that many members of the Knights Templar be arrested, tortured into giving false confessions, and burned at the stake. His motive? He had heard rumors criminalizing the Templars, and though the rumors were not generally believed to be true, the king was already drowning in debt to the order for helping fund his war against England. So he took the first opportunity he could to discredit the Templars and be rid of them.
1829 — A Stunt Gone Badly
On November 13, 1829, daredevil Sam Patch — apparently high off his earlier success jumping off a cliff at Niagara Falls — leapt from New York’s Genesee Falls into the river below, plunging to his death in front of 10,000 onlookers. Some speculated that he was drunk when he jumped and was unable to replicate the same posture and position that allowed him to survive the Niagara stunt just a month before.
1939 — Australia’s Infamous Bushfire
January 13, 1939 would later become known as “Black Friday” in the Victoria province of Australia, after a tragic bushfire killed 36 people in one day. Experiencing an unusually dry summer and drought (remember January is summer down under!), the Australians were helpless against the fires that raged all month long, killing a total of 71 people and destroying 1,300 buildings across the province.
1940 — The Nazis Bomb the Palace
On September 13, 1940, tea time at Buckingham Palace came to an abrupt halt when Nazi Germany dropped five bombs, destroying the royal chapel, rupturing a water main, and killing one person. King George VI and his wife Queen Elizabeth were home at the time, reportedly having tea. The Friday the 13th bombing was the second time the palace had been attacked, and they would suffer several more bombings in the future. But Sept. 13’s was the most destructive.
1951 — Floods Take Over Kansas
On July 13, 1951, five days of unending rain in northeastern Kansas finally took its toll, causing the worst flooding the National Weather Service had ever seen. The Kansas River in Topeka rose almost 15 feet above flood stage and six feet higher than any other measured flood before that time. Topeka, Lawrence, and Manhattan were all under water, racking up approximately $935 million in damage (like $6.4 billion today) and with 28 people losing their lives.
1952 — The Cold War Gets Messy
Friday, June 13, 1952 would later become known as the “Catalina Affair.” That was the day that the Soviet Union shot down a Swedish military plane over water, consequently killing the eight people on board. At first, the Swedes insisted that the plane was simply on a training flight, and they maintained that story for the next 40 years. They finally admitted in the ’90s that the downed plane was on a spy mission for NATO.
1970 — Cyclone Kills 300,000
On November 13, 1970, the area that is now Bangladesh (previously East Pakistan and India’s West Bengal) experienced one of the most catastrophic natural events in history. Equivalent to a Category 3 hurricane, the tropical cyclone saw winds of 115 mph, but the kicker was the storm surge that pushed ocean water so high that residents were forced to climb trees for survival. With 300,000 lives lost, the storm is generally considered the deadliest tropical cyclone ever recorded, as well as one of the deadliest natural disasters.
1972 — Plane Crash #1
Ever heard of the book or movie “Alive”? The events of October 13, 1972 (and the harrowing months that followed) haunt the dreams of people all over the world. A plane carrying a rugby team crashed in the cold, snowy Andes Mountains, with the survivors resorting to cannibalism over the next two months in order to stay alive. Eighteen out of the plane’s 45 passengers survived the ordeal, with the rescue finally taking place on December 23.
1972 — Plane Crash #2
On the same day, across the world, there was another airplane crash — this one in Russia, tragically killing all 174 people on board. The flight had originated in Paris, stopped for a short layover in Leningrad, and was completing its flight en route to its Moscow destination when it crashed at a speed of 385 mph. Nobody knows exactly what happened.
1989 — Stock Market Crash
Referred to as “Black Friday” by those who remember it, October 13, 1989 was a scary day for the United States economy. It all started when a buy-out deal for UAL Corporation (United Airlines’ parent company) fell through, thrusting the market into a mini-collapse. It didn’t feel “mini” at the time, though. It was the second worst that the stock exchange had ever seen, with the Dow Jones Industrial Average falling 190.58 points (or 6.91 percent).
2006 — The “Friday the 13th Blizzard”
October 13, 2006, was the day Buffalo, New York, received a whopping 22 inches of snow — unheard of for October. The problem with early fall snowstorms is that many trees have not lost their leaves yet, and those Buffalo trees couldn’t handle the weight of both the leaves and heavy snow. Tree branches broke all over the city, and about one million residents were without electricity for almost a week. And nine months later — well, I’m just making that part up.
2012 — Cruise Ship Sinks.
The most recent unlucky event occurred in 2012, on Friday, January 13. The tourist cruise ship Costa Concordia struck a reef on the Tuscan coast, causing a partial sinking and the deaths of 32 people. The ship’s captain is currently serving a 16-year sentence in an Italian prison for manslaughter and for abandoning the ship in the wake of the disaster.
What’s next? 2029
On April 13, 2029, asteroid 99942 Apophis is expected to come within 18,000 miles of Earth — which is nothing in the grand scheme of the universe. The biggest threat? As it passes by, our planet’s tidal forces could cause pieces of the asteroid to break up, basically causing an avalanche of itself. It’s roughly the size of a football field, so it could have enough mass and momentum to cause a pretty big problem.
Featured image of the Andes plane crash, courtesy of National Geographic.
How has Friday the 13th been unlucky for you? We want to hear your stories in the comments!