The Fourteenth Man: 1858

Frontispiece of the Annual Report of The Thirteen Club.

Frontispiece of the Annual Report of The Thirteen Club.

[A correspondent from Paris tells of the dire number thirteen.]

“That thirteen is an unlucky number all the world knows. No house numbered thirteen but what suffered troubles and deaths beyond all reason. Thirteen at table is certain death to some member of the company before the year is out. One of the Rothschilds paid a large sum of money once to have all the numbers of a street changed so that a house he had selected might be relieved of the disastrous number. The thirteenth of the month—particularly if it comes on a Friday—is awful to everyone. No thirteen in this world but what brought sadness and misfortune! At least so it is generally presumed on this side of the water.

The occupation of ‘No. 14’ is a recognized one in Paris, serving as it does to designate certain individuals who, for a slight compensation and unrestrained liberty concerning the victuals, consent to add one to any unfortunate dinner party which by mistake only counts thirteen. ‘No. 14’ has a white cravat, a tolerable looking dress coat, and a tolerably prepossessing countenance for his stock in trade. His address is always known to habitual entertainers, and he is ever within call for an emergency. Silent, but industrious, he fills most respectably a fourteenth chair, thus averting calamity from the heads of all the others.

But heresy and unbelief have crept into the minds of some wild young fellows in Bordeaux. They are determined if possible to destroy the ancient superstition, and for that purpose have resolved to form themselves into a society to be called the ‘Independent Thirteeners’—or something equally bold—which shall have banquets to be invariably attended by thirteen persons, such banquets always to be given on Fridays. And, reckless as to the sorrows and deaths this will bring upon them, they have further determined to have a regular grand ‘blow-out,’ if I may so express myself, the thirteenth Friday of each year! The members will at each banquet upset the salt and not throw any over their left shoulders! They will purposely cross their knives so as to quarrel with each other, will commence all their journeys on Friday, and, in short, pitch in to Friday and number thirteen generally. In addition to all this they offer to receive with delight and affection as members of their club, persons supposed to be afflicted with what is called along the coasts of the Mediterranean the ‘evil eye,’ to counteract the effect of which so many coral horns are worn in Genoa, Naples and other places where, also, to avoid their harming influence, persons with the ‘eye’ never receive in a shake of the hands more than two fingers, the two middle ones and the thumb being carefully turned down in defence. When all this unfortunate club are dead from such willful perversity, I will write and let you know about it.”

Detroit [MI] Free Press 11 July 1858: p. 2

Mrs Daffodil’s Aide-memoire:  While thirteen is considered a most unlucky number in many cultures, “thirteen at table” was especially lethal, as we see in this curious story about King Alfonso XII of Spain.

Last year, when visiting the cholera-stricken people of Aranjuez, the King dined with his suite. During the first course one of the guests asked permission to withdraw. It was naturally desired to know why, and this person naively replied.: “Because there are thirteen at table,” which was the fact.

The King laughed greatly at this incident, and insisted that every one should keep his place. Then, still laughing, he turned to the Duke las Castillejos, son of Marshal Prim, and aide-de-camp of General Pavia and said to the Duke, “Take down the names of the persons present, so that we can prove if the proverb is true. I am curious to know which of us it will be that will die this year,” added the King with his habitual good humour.

Of the ” thirteen at dinner ” it was the King who was the first to die.

The Medium and Daybreak 5 February 1886: p. 87

The King died, aged only 27, in 1885. He had been suffering from consumption, but the official cause of death was dysentery—perhaps acquired during his tour of cholera-stricken villages? Despite his “habitual good humour,” the King was plagued by deaths among his relatives, wives, and would-be wives, a circumstance attributed to an unlucky ring.

Mrs Daffodil has previously written on the hi-jinks of “The Thirteen Club.” Such iconoclastic organisations were immensely popular, if one takes everything one reads in the newspapers seriously. Here is an account of an ill-fated Parisian attempt at stamping out superstition.

The Fatal Thirteen.

Some weeks ago a strong-minded Parisienne started the Thirteen club, so named because at the luncheons and dinners the members organized among themselves on the 13th of the month, and they always sat down thirteen in number, but when that date coincided with a Friday the day was celebrated with special rejoicings. Moreover, the members pledged themselves to make an active propaganda among their friends and relatives with the view of crushing the superstition attached to the fatal thirteen. One enthusiastic recruit even suggested starting a weekly paper in support of the movement and she brought out one number at her own expense. It was shown to me at the time, and I am not surprised that the publication went no further. But now I hear that the strong-minded president of the club had a motor accident recently on Friday the 13th and that when she reached home she found burglars had entered her house. She at once resigned her membership, and the Thirteen club is dead. Idaho Statesman [Boise, ID] 8 March 1908: p. 6

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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