The 13th floor and other superstitions

chicagoAt a hotel recently I was zooming up its sleek elevator to my room when I noticed something: no 13th floor.

Oh, come on. Here we are in the 21st century, and there I was in a vibrant city in a high tech skyscraper with two other people texting away on their phones. And thankfully the decision had been made to protect us from the evil spirits that have it in for the 13th floor.

I understand that primitive people can make odd connections that become superstitions. A black cat slept in the barn the night before Jethrod’s horse caught the mange, so the neighbor woman who owns the cat must be burned as a witch. Or something like that.

unlucky13-146x100Sarcasm aside: Why do modern builders make the no-13th choice? Is it simply unthinking tradition? Are the manufacturers of elevator systems unable or unwilling to change their panel designs to include 13? Do builders believe we consumers are so fearfully superstitious that we will refuse to go in buildings with 13th floors? Or do they really think that malevolent forces from the netherworld are a threat to the 13th and that they are taking appropriate precautions?

Another odd aspect: The spirits that hate the 13th are a bit stupid, apparently. There is a 13th floor in a tall building — but if we label it the 14th floor, they can’t figure it out and we are safe. Whew.

Is it not time to ease this superstition into the dustbins of history? Perhaps we should revive the Thirteen Clubs and invite builders to join us?

Thus endeth the rant.

4 thoughts on “The 13th floor and other superstitions

  • September 17, 2009 at 11:43 am


    A few years ago I took a month long trip to Italy and Greece, so I (apparently unnecessarily) got an international driver’s license. While on one of the Greek islands I decided to rent a scooter and do a bit of sightseeing. The shop operator wanted me to leave some ID with him while I took out the scooter, and the only thing he liked that I could offer was the international license. I handed it over to him and as he glanced over it his eyes grew large. He dropped the license on the counter and carefully pushed it back towards me. It took a bit of heated discussion between the two if us, as I told him to keep it and he just kept shaking his head. I finally discovered that buried in the center of the 20-some digits of the license number was the string “666”, and this bright guy had caught on to my devious attempt to corrupt his soul and steel his first born child. This sad fellow was just so relieved to get me and my license out of his shop that he let me go on my way with the scooter and without leaving any collateral. If I had not returned, I’m sure Satin would have had to take the blame!

    I wish we actually lived in a 21st century society where superstitions were a thing of the past, but I have run into too many people who still, as my wife would say, have magical thinking. I was once talking to someone about dieting and I grabbed a jar of peanut butter and started reading the number of calories per serving. This person, who apparently really LOVED peanut butter yelled out “don’t tell me, don’t tell me.” Of course, I thought they had to be kidding, so I went ahead, only to see that this person was now truly sad – and mad at me. Apparently, they truly believed that if they simply averted their mind from the nutritional facts, the tasty peanut butter could not then harm them! Whatever else it was, this was a crystal clear demonstration of the primacy of consciousness in practice.

    Many buildings these days are built with properly labeled 13th floors, but the tradition does continue. From the Wikipedia article “Thirteenth floor”,

    “Dilip Rangnekar of Otis Elevators estimates that 85% of the buildings with elevators did not have a floor named the 13th floor.”

    I wonder if the office half-floor in the film “Being John Malkovich” was #13?? [Nope, just checked. It was the 7-1/2 floor :-)]

  • September 18, 2009 at 3:07 am

    One of the many idiosyncrasies of the motel and hotel industries is the avoidance of the number 13.

    As accommodation providers, it’s not that we an overly superstitious lot. It’s just that it would wreck our day if we were unable to sell the last room that happened to be unit 13, by offering it to a phobic guest. And besides, we like to ensure the comfort of all guests – even those that are superstitious!

    How do accommodation providers avoid offering a unit 13?

    Sometimes units are numbered in number blocks eg: 1-10 and then, 21-30. This is along the same principal of multi-floored accommodation complexes, where units on the first floor are numbered with the first numeral depicting the floor, eg: the first floor units would start from 100 and the second floor from 200 and so on.

    It is also fairly common for hotels not to have a 13th floor.

    Some accommodation complexes simply skip unit 13 by having unit 12 followed by a unit 14. Another trick is to have a unit 12A, but the trouble with this is that everyone really knows it’s unit 13!

    It must be said that many commercial accommodation complexes offer a unit 13, however why do many persist with a mystical avoidance? Surely in this modern world, we now laugh in the face of ludicrous and irrational superstitions.

    Er, NO!

    A recent Harris Poll (Forbes, March 9, 2009) found that of those surveyed:

    * 31% said they think astrology is “very” or “sort of” scientific
    * 44% believe in ghosts
    * 31% believe in witches
    * 33% said they believe intelligent beings from other planets have visited
    * 25% are superstitious about knocking on wood
    * 13% are superstitious about a black cat crossing a path
    * 12% are superstitious about walking under a ladder
    * 11% are superstitious breaking a mirror
    * AND 9% are superstitious about the number 13

    Good grief! Maybe those accommodation providers that smugly persist in “hiding” unit 13, understand more about the frailties of the human condition than those of us that don’t.

  • September 18, 2009 at 11:39 am

    Nice post, Motella, and interesting data. Thanks.

  • October 11, 2009 at 3:44 am

    Well I imagine that even if only a minority of people ask to be re-roomed upon learning that they are in 13xx then it is sufficient incentive for hoteliers to avoid the problem completely.

    Incidentally, in Europe the floor at street level is the ground floor whilst the first is one flight of stairs up. That changes the relative location of the 13th floor. Additionally quite a few buildings don’t omit the 13th floor. Thus our 14th floor often equates to a US 16th. Given that superstitions concerning the number thirteen pre-date Columbus and the indisputable fact that spirits follow tradition, it does increase the worry for the credulous.

    Mind you it did give Roky Erickson a band name.

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