The Thirteen Club: Celebrating Friday the 13th

From the menu of a 13 Club dinner.

From the menu of a 13 Club dinner.

Since today is Friday the Thirteenth, Mrs Daffodil, who is not superstitious, thought it would be amusing to tell of the “Thirteen Club,” founded in New York in 1882 by Capt. William Fowler, a Civil War veteran who believed thirteen to be his lucky number.

THIRTEEN IS A LUCKY NUMBER

The 13 Club Eats Its Thirteenth Dinner,

And the Members Claim to Have Enjoyed Themselves.

A Deliberate Attempt to Destroy Time-Honored Superstitions That Succeeded.

Thirteen years ago the Thirteen Club was organized at the Knickerbocker Cottage, No. 454 Sixth Avenue, New York, and its thirteenth annual banquet was held there last evening, beginning at 3:13 o’clock. There are just 13 letters in the word Knickerbocker, and the numbers 454, added together, make 13. The host, upon the occasion when the club was formed 13 years ago, was William Fowler, who was present last night, and there are just 13 letters in his name, while the original dinner was held in room 13, on the 13th of the month and there were 13 courses.

There is probably no social organization in existence, says the New York World, which has so signally achieved its object and excited so much curiosity as the Thirteen Club. It was formed for the purpose of combating the superstition that 13 is an unlucky number and that Friday is an unlucky day. A great many people believed, and some still believe, that if 13 people sit down at table together one will surely die within a year.

Thirteen people sat down at table at the original dinner of the Thirteen Club and not one of them died within a year. As a matter of fact it was six years before one of the participants in the dinner died, and it was neither the food nor the wine that caused his death.

The club has, moreover, practically succeeded in destroying the old superstition about Friday. Within a year after its formation the archivist, who is one of the officials of the club, drew up a letter, which he had prepared, showing the absurdity of the Friday superstition.

HANGMAN’S DAY.

These tended to show that Friday was a particularly unlucky day upon which to begin any enterprise; that a ship sailing on Friday would surely be lost, and especially that Friday was known as the “Hangman’s Day” and was the only day of the week when criminals could appropriately be executed.

When this letter was read to the club it was unanimously adopted, and funds were raised for its dissemination. A copy was mailed to the governor of every state in the union and one was sent to every judge in the country having power to sentence to death, as well as many district attorneys. It contained a request that they would accept honorary membership in the Thirteen Club and join the battle against Friday superstitions, and it asked that they vary the day for hanging criminals

Decius S. Wade, chief justice of Montana, was one of the first to acknowledge receipt of this letter, and he said he delayed doing so until a murderer who was being tried before him was convicted. He wrote that he had sentenced the man to be hanged on a Thursday. Judge Wade added that the criminal did not lose anything by this, as he had given him six days longer to live by choosing Thursday for his final taking off, and in conclusion he said: “If this is not sufficient to constitute me an honorary member of the Thirteen Club, I will cheerfully hang the next murderer on any day the Thirteen Club may name.”

It was not, however, until nearly every state in the union had varied the hanging day as a result of the work begun by the Thirteen Club that the first case of execution upon any other day than Friday was accomplished in the state of New York. This was the case of Mrs. Druse, in Albany County [see below for her story], who was sentenced by a member of the club and hanged on a Monday.

Judge Van Hoesen, of the Supreme Court of New York, was the first to break the iron rule in that city. He chose Monday for the hanging of the first murderer sentenced by him after the formation of the Thirteen Club. The next hanging in New York took place upon a Thursday through the instrumentality of Governor Hill, who reprieved a murderer for several weeks and ordered that he be hanged upon a Thursday, saying he changed the day of hanging because Friday, known as the sixth day of the week, had been given too much of the disgrace attendant upon such occasions.

Executions are now ordered upon all the days of the week, except Sunday, in different parts of the union, and Friday has ceased to be known as Hangman’s day.

SHIPS NOW SAIL ON FRIDAY

Many vessels now sails from New York on Friday of every week, as well as from other ports of the world. Thirteen years ago such sailings were not so common, while there was a deep-rooted superstition among sailors against sailing upon any ship which left port on that day. Lieutenant Peary, when leaving on the Kite for the Arctic, in July, 1891, deferred the sailing one day because the sailors protested against leaving port of Friday. The members of the Thirteen Club now believe, however, that this absurd superstition has been shaken in the minds of sailors through the club’s propaganda, and that in a few years it will disappear altogether…

THEY LIKE COFFINS

It would almost seem, from a perusal of the literature published by the Thirteen Club and from the speeches delivered by members at its numerous banquets, that 13 is a lucky number, and Friday a lucky day, and whenever during the past 13 years Friday has fallen on the thirteenth of the month this peculiar organization has never failed to hold a special meeting for rejoicing. It was always on the watch for coincidences which would add to the oddity of the occasion. Thus its summer banquets were held at Brighton Beach, because there were 13 letters in the name, just as last night the dinner was at the Knickerbocker for the same reason.

The members of the club have been called iconoclasts and they have been charged with being steeped in superstition because they recognized old superstitions to the extent of organizing and working for their overthrow. It is a fact that not being content with defying the superstition about Friday and the number 13, they have also attacked a lot of other deeply rooted notions that are somewhat absurd, but which everybody recognizes more or less. Thus they not only sit down with 13 at the table, but often the menu is printed in the form of a coffin.

The coat of arms of the club takes the form of a man in a dress suit drinking a glass of wine with a skeleton, and a skull and cross bones are liberally displayed.

13 club 2

At the dinners of the club it has been a regular custom to spill salt, to cross forks, and to break looking glasses.

The Thirteen Club is the result of the efforts of a man who had been for several years seeking to get 12 friends to sit down with him at table in order to combat the old superstition. He is Capt. William Fowler, who was present at the banquet last night. Marvin R. Clark, who is largely responsible for the notoriety which the organization has attained, says that 13 days before the club was born he met Captain Fowler, who told him of his unsuccessful efforts to get up such a dinner in past years, and invited him to be present.

THE ORIGINAL THIRTEEN.

Mr. Clark accepted the invitation, although he says; “I was compelled to admit to myself that I certainly had been superstitious in the past, for I had always made it a rule, in conformity with the instructions of my mother, never to go under a ladder, and I recalled many an instance when I soiled shoes and clothing by carefully going out into the muddy street rather than pass under a ladder.”

The original dinner was held on Friday, January 13th, the guests sitting down at 7:13 and the original 13 were: Daniel Wolff, Lehman Israels, William Fowler, Henry A. Heiser, Charles Sothern, James A. Reed, Samuel Jones, Julius Witskowski, Richard Fitzgerald, George P. Powell, John Mills, Edwin Dew, and Marvin R. Clark.

As a result of the talk about superstitions at this dinner the club was formed. It achieved wide celebrity as soon as its objects and customs were known, and there was a rush of new members. From 13 members in January, 1882, the club reached a membership 13 times 13 in 1885, 26 times 13 in 1886, 52 times 13 in 1887, and 100 times 13, which was the limit decided upon in 1889.

Branch clubs were organized in other cities, the original club here granting them charters. Other unique organizations started into existence, such as the Opal Order, whose members wore opals [that unlucky stone…or the Whitechapel Club of Chicago [Jack the Ripper was the honorary president and members drank from skulls.]

The Thirteen Club of this city has, however, followed the original lines laid down at its opening dinner, and proposes to go right ahead, in spite of the ridicule heaped upon it in some quarters and in spite of the charge that its members are superstitious men whose greatest superstition is sitting 13 at table.

The present “chief ruler,” as the head of the organization is called, is ex-Assemblyman W.W. Niles, and among others who have held this office are Judge David McAdam and Surrogate J. H.V. Arnold. The honorary members include Chauncey M. Depew, Benjamin Harrison, Grover Cleveland, Abram S. Hewitt, William R. Grace, Roswell P. Flower, Judge Van Brunt and Judge Dugro. [The Prince of Wales was also offered an honourary membership. There was some controversy over whether he accepted.] The initiation fee is $1.13, and the members address each other as “Yours thirteenly.”

The Herald [Los Angeles, CA] 21 January 1895: p. 4

Mrs Daffodil adds this account of a contretemps at 1909 gathering of the club. One fears some hubris was involved.

Hoodoo Gets Even

Member of Thirteen Club Cut in Breaking a Mirror.

From the New York American.

Three hundred and thirteen members and guests of the Thirteen Club, which exists to defy superstition, were not so sure after their banquet at the St. Regis Monday night, that it is—well, discreet, say, to go out of one’s way to hoot at the old beliefs. J.R. Abarbanell, one of the members, volunteered to break a mirror—provided by the club—which hung over a $15,000 piano in the banquet hall. He struck it with a skull, and it broke, all right, and he struck so hard that his hand became involved with a shower of glass fragments and was seriously cut. Abarbanell ran from the room, yelling with excitement. It took a doctor nearly an hour to extract the glass from his hand and dress the cuts.

That wasn’t all. Several big fragments from the mirror fell upon the specially made woodwork of the $15,000 piano, cut and scratched the cover so badly that it will cost several hundred dollars to patch it up. Apart from that disturbing incident, the dinner went off very well. The guests entered the banquet room through a door above which hung a thirteen foot ladder with thirteen rungs, on which was inscribed, ‘Abandon all hope, ye who enter here.’ Then they sat down, thirteen at a table, and raised umbrellas, spilled salt, and used little skulls for candelabra.

Thirteen of the members after coffee had been served left the room, which was darkened, and returned in shrouds chanting, “Quaff a cup to the dead already; hurrah for the next that dies.” Then they groaned, laughed wild ghostly laughs, and carried out The Revelry of the Dying while little pans of alcohol gave blue- tinged light to the proceedings. The Washington [DC] Post 15 January 1909: p. 2

Mrs Daffodil’s Aide-memoire: The case of Mrs Druse, mentioned as the first person executed in New York state on a Monday, was a lurid one. She shot her husband several times and then cut his head off, apparently while he was still living. To be fair, it was said that she had some provocation: Mr Druse was said to be both shiftless and psychotically violent and he objected to Mrs Druse’s gentlemen callers. Clearly if she had been a better shot she would have avoided the painful and distasteful chore that is dismemberment.

Mrs Daffodil has previously remarked that she is not superstitious, although many of her employers take great pains to avoid thirteen at table. Mrs Daffodil thinks that it is only unlucky to be thirteen at table is if the thirteenth is someone odious like Mr G B Shaw, Viscount Astor or a mauve-faced Colonel of Mrs Daffodil’s acquaintance who breathes heavily down the décolletage of blushing young brides. These gentlemen, if Mrs Daffodil has anything to say about it, would seem to be appropriate candidates for dying well inside of a year of staggering away from the unlucky table.

You will find the story of Mrs Druse and its accompanying ghost story in The Ghost Wore Black: Ghastly Tales from the Past, available in paperback and for Kindle. The book also contains a chapter about “hoodoos,” including the number 13.

Mrs Daffodil invites you to join her on the curiously named “Face-book,” where you will find a feast of fashion hints, fads and fancies, and historical anecdotes

You may read about a sentimental succubus, a vengeful seamstress’s ghost, Victorian mourning gone horribly wrong, and, of course, Mrs Daffodil’s efficient tidying up after a distasteful decapitation in A Spot of Bother: Four Macabre Tales.

 

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6 thoughts on “The Thirteen Club: Celebrating Friday the 13th

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