The Thirteen Club dined 13 to a table, walked under ladders and open umbrellas, rented cats and donkeys * – all to debunk the number 13 superstition.
Other meetings included mirror-smashing, salt-spilling, and mock trials of members who had purportedly acted superstitiously.
The founding friggatriskaidekaphile (the opposite of friggatriskaidekaphobe) was one Captain William Fowler. He seems to have lived his life under the (favorable) auspice of the number 13.
He graduated from P.S. 13 at age 13. During a short stint as an architect, he built 13 public buildings. Later, he retired from combat on August 13, 1863, having survived 13 battles. Shortly thereafter, he purchased a cottage on the 13th of the month.
(He eventually sold it on Friday, April 13, 1883.)
One rather sweet story goes that Captain Fowler was put out when a lady of his acquaintance dismissed her nine-year-old daughter if the number at table reached 13.
Fowler’s missed his little friend’s company. To fight this (to him) annoying prejudice, he tried to get 13 men together to deliberately eat a meal.
It took one year.
The New York Historical Society describes the inaugural Thirteen Club meeting on Friday, January 13, at eight-thirteen in the evening, in room number 13.
The diners passed under a ladder and enjoyed their thirteen courses (starting with a coffin-shaped lobster salad) under a banner reading “Morituri te Salutamus.”
Or “Those of us who are about to die salute you.”
A year later the Thirteen Club secretary gleefully reported that: “out of the entire roll of membership … whether they have participated or not at the banquet table, NOT A SINGLE MEMBER IS DEAD, or has even had a serious illness. “
Both the London and New York clubs bragged that their members were always healthy and prosperous.
When asked if anything ever happened to the club’s members, Mr W H Blanch, the founder of he London Thirteen Club, said that only one had died since the club was established four years earlier and that particular member had not paid his subscription!
The Thirteen Club would count among its honorary members no fewer than four former presidents of the United States (Chester A. Arthur, Grover Cleveland, Benjamin Harrison, and Theodore Roosevelt).
Oscar Wilde refused to join though, saying, “I love superstitions. They are the opponent of common sense.”
When they weren’t dining…
They wrote to local officials, asking them to rehabilitate Friday’s unlucky reputation by “inducing Judges to select some other day… for hangings.”
Meanwhile, the London Thirteen Club debunked a curse when they moved a stone tablet commemorating the murder of a sailor at Devil’s Punch Bowl in Hindhead.
The stone was inscribed, ‘Cursed be the man who injureth or removeth this stone’.
Although both Friday and the number 13 have both been considered unlucky for centuries, it’s possible that no one made a point of combining them until the Thirteen Club.
By poking fun at superstition, they may have popularised it by mistake.