Superstitions were widespread in the 1800’s. People believed it was bad luck to break mirrors, spill salt, and walk under ladders, but none was more evident than the fear of the number thirteen. In fact, the thirteenth of every month was considered unlucky and so was every Friday—not just Friday the 13th.
People were so superstitious that their unfounded beliefs distracted them at work on the days considered to be unlucky. Captain William Fowler sought to bring an end to those strange beliefs and prove them false by starting the Thirteen Club.
To challenge this belief, the club met on the thirteenth of the month, members sat thirteen to a table and ate dinner at precisely 7:13pm. During one dinner, the club added candles to everyone’s seat. The first candle to extinguish would be the first to die. Of course, that person didn’t die within the year and all the members were living proof that the superstitions were untrue.
Although the social events seemed lighthearted and fun, the members took their position seriously. One of the roles of the club was to reverse Friday’s bad reputation. They believed the superstition stemmed from the fact that Fridays were “hangman’s day”—the day when judges scheduled public hangings. The club members made use of their respected positions in the community and convinced judges to execute criminals on other days of the week.
Club member, Judge McAdam stated, “Now anybody can have as much pleasure on that day [Friday] while those who were formerly hanged only on Friday may now have the pleasure of being hanged on every day of the week.”
Five Presidents of the United States were honorary members of the club along with many Senators, Governors and other statesmen across the country.
The club’s moto was morituri the salutamus which means we who are about to die salute you. This latin phrase originated in the times of Rome gladiators who would say this to their emperor before going into battle.
Although the club no longer exists today, many people refuse to let go of this strange superstition.