The Thirteen Club: Debunking Bizarre Beliefs
While I love stories of the bizarre and unusual, I prefer those stories to be truthful or at least verifiably mysterious. When it comes to superstition, the only thing that is bizarre is that people actually adhere to these beliefs. Over the centuries, numerous scientists and free thinkers have attempted to debunk superstitions of nearly all types and origins with varying degrees of success. One group of such debunkers was known as The Thirteen Club. As the name suggests, it was started with superstitions about the number 13 in mind. However, that was not the only superstition members of The Thirteen Club set out to debunk.
The first meeting of The Thirteen Club was a dinner party of sorts on January 13, 1881. The stories have it that it was a dinner party that few superstitious individuals would have dared to enter. There were reportedly black cats crossing the diners' paths as they entered, open ladders and mirror breaking. There were also 13 people seated at a dinner table, where participants kept spilling salt. They did all of this without spitting to avert evil!
All kidding aside, the idea was to not only show that cats, salt, mirrors and ladders are nothing to fear, unless you are clumsy, have a mean cat or are the victim of an earthquake. It was also to show that a dinner can include 13 diners and all 13 can survive the year. Yes, there seems to be a clearly bogus belief that if 13 people sit down to dinner, one will die within a year. Of course, there is no telling if one or all of them will die, but there is certainly no magic number that will ensure that one will meet his or her maker before year's end. The Thirteen Club proved this but, as is typically the case, people still hold the superstition, which may have been around for centuries centuries.
Beware of warnings about the number 13 and stories of its unlucky history, though. Many of them are demonstrably bogus. Judas number 13 at the Last Supper -- no such mention of any such thing in the Bible. The Code of Hammurabi -- Babylonian law dating back several thousand years -- skipped the number 13! Also hogwash. The Code was not numbered. Sure, hotels have a tendency to skip floor 13 these days, but the 14th floor is still technically the 13th floor and the habit stems from this faulty belief; it is not a result of actual danger.
The Thirteen Club gained popularity and had more than 400 members involved at one time. Famous names often associated with the club include Teddy Roosevelt, William McKinley, Benjamin Harrison and Grover Cleveland. However, interest dissipated over time and the club went out of fashion. Sporadic groups of a similar nature have since adopted the name and it is quite possible that we will see a spike in membership of these skeptic groups soon. Those interested in debunking myths that can only be termed as superstitions, visit thethirteenclub.org.
Posted by Michelle Barclay