Cyclone Nargis, 1970, Bangledesh
13 Apr 2018

Historic catastrophies on Friday the 13th - Many still believe in this day´s "Dark Powers"

History
Communication Group

Photo: (Above) The Bhola cyclone hit Bangledesh on Friday the 13th, 1970, killing half a million people.

Video: (Above) A documentary exploring the last journey of the Swedish military DC-3 which was shot down by the Soviets on the morning of Friday, June the13th, 1952.

Video: (Below) A news clip from City TV News Toronto exploring Canadians´ superstitions around Friday the 13th.

Are you worried something bad is going to happen at your station or in your community today, because it is Friday the 13th? Your´re not alone; it’s been estimated close to a billion US dollars is lost in business on this day - every year -  because people will not fly or do business as they would.

According to Swedish ethnologist Jonas Engman, superstitions around this day are not only surviving the Dark Ages, they are thriving in our modern society.

British newspaper The Sun writes; considering Friday the 13th as unlucky dates back for hundreds of years, with the tradition said to have begun in the Middle Ages or even Biblical times.

 

CTIF NEWS LOGO

Published by Bjorn Ulfsson / CTIF NEWS

However, firefighters are generally practical people and don´t seem to pay that much attention to this day. At least not on a personal basis - even though they may fear encountering strange behaviors in the community on this day. A few firefighters´ forums mention the fear of using turnout vehicles with license plates displaying the number 666, and other minor superstitions, but not much pertaining to actually fearing "shit´s going to hit the fan" on Friday the 13th.

Some modern research actually claim Friday the 13ths usually report less fires than other days.

Some say the superstition arose from Jesus’ last supper, where is it thought there were 13 people present on the night before his death – which occurred on a Friday.

Wiki strip on Fryday the 13th Fears

 

 

Thanks to a string of events that have occurred on this day, many feel it is jinxed and pay particular care to avoid catastrophe when it comes around.

The fear is so widespread that psychologists have even come up with a word for those who suffer from it: paraskavedekatriaphobia.

Casinopedia's research suggests that 49 million Brits are superstitious about Friday 13.

"It´s not just a matter of if we believe in the "dark powers" of Friday the 13th or not, it´s more about the fact that so many of us play along along with the drama of it, just as if it was real", says ethnologist Jonas Engman to Swedish Aftonbladet.se.

There is no proven connection between certain dates, week days, months or years that would be more "lucky" or "unlucky". However, some psychologists claim the belief itself can cause minor chaos based on the expectation of bad things happening, or stir up unconscious psychological unrest leading to panic decisions or failing to concentrate during critical tasks due to fear.

Not unlike the recently debunked connection between full moon and mental illness - so many believed it for so long, but it was a total myth.

But myth can have power, if we give it away, either consciously or unconsciously:

Act for Libraries write; according to Dr. Donald Dossey, the coiner of the term paraskavedekatriaphobia, “It’s been estimated that [U.S] $800 or $900 million is lost in business on this day (every year) because people will not fly or do business they would normally do.”

The Stress Management Center and Phobia Institute in Asheville, North Carolina,  believes an estimated 17 to 21 million people in the United States are affected by a fear of this day making it the most feared day and date in history.

“The risk of hospital admission as a result of a transport accident may be increased by as much as 52 percent. Staying at home is recommended.”

Fear can, in some cases, be a "good" thing:

In June 2008, The Dutch Centre for Insurance Statistics (CVS), stated that “fewer accidents and reports of fire and theft occur when the 13th of the month falls on a Friday than on other Fridays, because people are preventative,  more careful or just stay home.”

 

Black Cat

 

There is also a rift between religions about the "unlucky" or "lucky" nature of this day: While protestants tend to think of the number 13 as a symbol of Judas, Catholics often think of the number as 12 disciples + 1 teacher, meaning that 13 is the number of Jesus himself - a lucky number. Therefor, many catholics don´t believe in Friday the 13th and pay little attention to it.

In their article "Why Our Lady Loves the Number 13",  the Catholic Herald in UK lists a number of days falling on the 13th of the month that the Church considers blessed days:

"The Lady appeared at Fatima on the thirteenth of every month for six months ... It’s not a trivial matter that she appeared on May 13... May is the month dedicated to Our Lady", they write.

 

Templars engraving
On Friday, October 13, 1307, scores of French Templars were arrested, including the order’s grand master Jacques de Molay. Many of the knights were brutally tortured until they confessed to false charges, which included heresy, homosexuality, financial corruption, devil worshipping, fraud, spitting on the cross and more.

 

But is there any statistical proof to support the superstition that Friday the 13th — or even just the number 13 itself — is unlucky?

"You would think we would have gotten over these superstitions by now, but far from it", says Swedish ethnologist Jonas Engman.

Live Science write: "No data exists, and will never exist, to confirm that the number 13 is an unlucky number," said Igor Radun of the Human Factors and Safety Behavior Group at the University of Helsinki's Institute of Behavioural Sciences in Finland. "There is no reason to believe that any number would be lucky or unlucky." 

Radun might very well be correct, but there are a few bits of scientific research that have given superstitious folk a little more cause for concern, even if the scientists who performed the work aren't necessarily alarmed by their findings.

For starters, a 1993 study published in the British Medical Journal indicates otherwise. Researchers analyzed the traffic flow and number of injuries from car accidents on the southern section of London's M25 motorway during the five months that the 13th fell on a Friday between 1990 and 1992.

They compared these numbers to data collected on Friday the 6th of the same months, and found that although there are consistently fewer vehicles on the road during the 13th — possibly as a result of superstitious people choosing not to drive that day, the researchers proposed — "the risk of hospital admission as a result of a transport accident may be increased by as much as 52 percent" on the 13th.

But before triskaidekaphobics, or those who fear the number 13, say "I told you so," it should be noted that although the data were authentic, the authors didn't mean for their conclusions to be taken seriously.

"It's quite amusing and written with tongue firmly in cheek," said Robert Luben, a researcher at the school of clinical medicine at the University of Cambridge and one of the study's authors. "It was written for the Christmas edition of the British Medical Journal, which usually carries fun or spoof articles."

Many people took the study at face value and it continues to be cited as valid evidence regarding the misfortune of both the number 13 and Friday the 13th .

"(Some people) clearly didn't understand that the paper was just a bit of fun and not to be taken seriously," Luben told Life's Little Mysteries. "Many also assumed that the authors were 'believers.' I'm sure that most of these people hadn't read the paper, which suggests that people being superstitious affects their behavior.

 

The salvaged wreckage of the DC-3 on display at the Flygvapenmuseum, Linköping (photo: JB)
This Swedish spy plane was shot down by the Soviets on Friday June 13, 1952. The salvaged wreckage of the DC-3 on display at the Flygvapenmuseum, Linköping (photo: JB)

However, there are a number of catastrophic events that have happened on Friday the 13th in the last hundred years. Take it more as entertainment than "proof":-)

Glen Guest House © Commonwealth of Australia 2012
The Glen Guest House was one of the many buildings destroyed in the Black Friday Bushfire in Australia on Friday the 13th 1939. Photo: © Commonwealth of Australia 2012

On Friday, January 13th, 1939, a bush fire in the Australian province of Victoria broke out, killing 36 people in one day. The fire became known as the “Black Friday fire” and according to the management of Australia’s emergency department, a total of 75 people died and the fire affected almost three fourths of the state. The drought had made it easier for the fire to spread, with the result that almost 1300 buildings were burned to the ground.

During the second world war, Germany began an intensive campaign against the UK, with London being the main target. Among the bombing attacks was the one on 13 September 1940 during which, according to the archives centre in Westminister, Buckingham Palace was hit by five bombs.

On Friday 13 July, 1951, flooding records in Kansas, USA were broken when in Topka, the level of the Kansas river rose to more than 12 metres – four and a half metres higher than what is considered to be the usual flooding level. The rain had been pouring down since 9 July and when these levels were reached on the 13th, there was a complete disaster in  the Midwest. 28 people died and around 500,000 people had to be evacuated until the water level went back down.

On Friday 13 June, 1952, the Cold War started to heat up when the Soviet Union downed a Swedish military plane. On board there were eigh people who, according to the Swedish Government, were on training. The Soviet Union denied that it had shot down the plane and the relations between the two sides worsened. Almost 40 years after the incident, Swedish officials finally admitted that the airplane was on a spying mission.

One of the worst crimes which happened in New York, happened precisely on Friday 13 March, 1963, when the manager of a liquor store, Kitty Genovese was raped and stabbed to death by a certain Winston Moseley. The attack lasted more than half an hour with media reports saying that almost 40 people saw the attack taking place but failed to call the police.This case ended up being used in psychology lectures as an example of the “bystander effect” or the “Kitty Genovese syndrome” when people do not take action in a situation because they assume that someone else has.

 

Rafiqul Islam (R) Nur Hussain Farati, center, and Farati’s sole surviving son, Abdul Kalam (L) pose in East Pakistan, Dec. 3, 1970. (AP Photo/Harry Koundakjian)
The Bhola cyclone killed an estimated 500,000 people in Chittagong and the surrounding area in Bangladesh. Rafiqul Islam (R) Nur Hussain Farati, center, and Farati’s sole surviving son, Abdul Kalam (L) pose in East Pakistan, Dec. 3, 1970. (AP Photo/Harry Koundakjian)

 

On 13 November, 1970, a devastating tropical cyclone left around 300,000 people dead in Bangladesh. Although the storm had been classified as category 3, it had struck the bay of Bengal with a heavy force and people did not have time or anywhere to escape to. They ended up climbing on to the trees and many were swept away by the rushing water.
 

Cyclones have wreaked havoc on the area in other years, killing some 11,000 people in 1985, for example. But, the 1970 Friday the 13th cyclone is described by the Indian Ocean Naval Symposium as “the deadliest tropical cyclone ever recorded, and one of the deadliest natural disasters in modern times.” 

 

Two plane crashes took place on Friday 13 October 1972. The first was when an airplane crashed close to the Sheremetyevo airport in Moscow, Russia. The plane was carrying 164 passengers and a ten member crew from Paris to Moscow with a stop in Leningrad. As soon as the plane was approaching the airport, it crashed and everyone on board died.

The second plane which crashed that day was carrying a rugby team, the Uruguayan Old Christians Club which was on its way to play a game in Chile, but crashed in the mountainous Andes region. It was the beginning of a nightmare for the 27 out of 45 passengers who managed to survive. With no warm clothes or food, they ended up eating the corpses of their dead team mates. Later, an avalanche killed another eight, while at the end of October, more of the survivors got sick and died. The last 16 people managed to survive and were rescued, 72 days later, on 23 December 1972.

On Friday 13 January 1989, a virus attacked and caused considerable damage to IBM computers in the UK. This deleted a lot of information which could not be recovered at a time when the system of back ups had not yet been developed.

 Friday 13 September 1996 was a tragic day for the hip-hop music scene, as rapper Tupac Shakur died from gunshot wounds in a a Las Vegas hospital. He was shot on 7 September during a drive-by shooting. 

On Friday 13 October 2006, the residents of Buffalo, New York had 60 cms of snow as a result of an unexpected storm.

On Friday 13, August, 2010 a 13-year-old boy was hit by lighting at 1.13 p.m. in Suffolk, UK. The name of the boy was never published but a member of the St John Ambulance had told the  media that a strong lightning bolt had struck the area, and a second later they received a telephone call that someone had been hit. He said the boy was still breathing and was conscious. The boy only sustained some burns and the paramedic said it was strange that the boy was 13 and that the accident happened on Friday the 13th and that the time was 13.13.

On Friday 13 January, 2012, the Costa Concordia cruise liner was carrying around 4000 people when it crashed into a reef just off the island of Giglio and began to tilt to one side. In this accident, 32 people died.

Costa Concordia