For many people in the Western world, the number 13 has a bad reputation.
The superstition surrounding this unlucky number doesn’t have one true origin – but so many believe in the myth of the number 13 that it affects how things are built.
Of course, all hotels have a 13th floor – just some don’t label it as such. Because many believe 13 is unlucky, some properties jump from floor 12 to 14, so superstitious guests aren’t unnerved or uncomfortable. If you want to know if a hotel has a 13th floor, check the elevator to see how the property is numbered.
The following explains the myth behind the unlucky number 13 and why some hotels avoid using it on their properties.
The Origins of Unlucky 13
The roots of the superstition behind the number 13 come from multiple sources.
One explanation is based on numerology, where the number 12 is seen as ‘complete’ – 12 months in the calendar, 12 inches in a foot, 12 signs of the zodiac, 12 Olympic Gods, 12 animals in the Chinese horoscope, etc.
The number 13, in contrast, throws off the balance of things and makes people uneasy.
Other explanations are rooted in ancient mythology.
The first and possibly most famous is the story of the Last Supper, where Judas, the 13th apostle, enjoys a meal with Jesus Christ, then betrays him to the Romans the very next day.
Speaking of bad guests, another ancient meal ended in tragedy when 12 Norse gods had a dinner party in Valhalla.
The trickster god Loki arrived uninvited as the 13th guest, killing Baldr (the god of light and joy), causing the world to go dark, and further affirming that 13 dinner guests can lead to misfortune.
These poorly behaved dinner companions then sullied the number 13’s reputation for the next several centuries.
In the industrial era, buildings never went higher than the 12th floor because builders believed that tall buildings created ominous shadows and lowered property values in the area.
Additionally, the famous hotelier J.W. Bill Marriott Jr. was quoted as saying the first thing he learned in the hotel business was not to go to the 13th floor.
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What Happens to the 13th Floor?
Every tall building has a 13th floor – but it’s usually skipped altogether or changed to a different number, like 12B or 14A.
The easiest place to notice this is in a hotel elevator.
The next time you’re headed up to a hotel room, check out the buttons and see what they’ve named their 13th floor.
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Is the Number 13 Actually Unlucky?
Superstitions are ingrained in the fabric of all societies, and some, like the unluckiness of the number 13, could be considered a self-fulfilling prophecy.
If you look hard enough, you can find several notable disasters related to the number.
For example, Princess Diana died in the Pont de l’Alma tunnel at the 13th pillar.
Apollo 13 suffered an oxygen tank explosion on April 13th before returning safely to Earth two days later.
Even the famous Space Shuttle Columbia disaster occurred on their 113th flight.
Regardless of these coincidences, the number 13 isn’t all bad – in fact, some cultures consider it lucky, while others don’t think about it all.
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What Is Triskaidekaphobia?
Triskaidekaphobia is a phobia categorized by an intense fear of the number 13.
The term comes from the Ancient Greek words for ‘thirteen’ and ‘fear’ and relates to the fear of Friday the 13th in Ancient Greece and the Old Norse language.
People affected with this phobia become extremely anxious or uncomfortable when confronted with the number 13.
Many builders omit the 13th floor (and the 13th room) from hotels and other buildings to appease this phobia and other general superstitions.
Thousands of years of belief and superstition have perpetuated the idea in the Western world that the number 13 is unlucky.
Because of this widely-held belief, hotels (and other tall buildings) often omit the 13th floor by skipping it altogether or renaming it to something else.
The next time you’re in an elevator in a hotel or tall building, check and see if it has a 13th floor. You may be surprised by what you find.