Friday the 13th: The History Behind the Enigma

It is widely known that 13 is an unlucky number. Many ghost stories and horror movies, like Freddy vs. Jason, have arisen out of this very orthodox belief. One thing I find very interesting is the story of Sarah Winchester, the deceased owner of the now-famous Winchester Mystery House located in San Jose, California. The Winchester Mystery House is a popular tourist attraction for those who marvel at its beauty and enigma and for believers alike.

Sarah Winchester was a spiritualist who believed that the ghostly presence of the victims of the Winchester Rifle was haunting her and her family. Her husband, the son of the manufacturer of the famous Winchester repeating rifle, had died of tuberculosis in 1881. After his and their infant daughter’s untimely death, she immediately sought a Boston medium, who told her that as long as she keeps building a huge house for the spirits, her life will not be in danger. Now, why do I bring up the Winchester Mystery House on this day? The haunted house’s website (http://winchestermysteryhouse.com/thenumber13.cfm) explains this very phenomenon.

Whether or not one believes in Mrs. Winchester’s superstitions about spirits, it’s harder to dismiss occurrences of the number 13 throughout the house. Many windows have 13 panes and there are 13 bathrooms, with 13 windows in the 13th Bathroom. There are also 13 wall panels in the room prior to the 13th Bathroom, and 13 steps leading to that bathroom. The Carriage Entrance Hall floor is divided into 13 cement sections. There are even 13 hooks in the Séance Room, which supposedly held the different colored robes Mrs. Winchester wore while communing with the spirits.

It’s interesting to note that Mrs. Winchester’s will had 13 parts and was signed by her 13 times!


Here are even more thirteens: 13 rails by the floor-level skylight in the South Conservatory, 13 steps on many of the stairways, 13 squares on each side of the Otis electric elevator, 13 glass cupolas on the Greenhouse, 13 holes in the sink drain covers, 13 ceiling panels in some of the rooms, and 13 gas jets on the Ballroom chandelier. (Mrs. Winchester had the thirteenth one added!)

So, apparently, Mrs. Winchester had a thing about the number 13. Why? Unfortunately, we may never know, adding an even creepier, more enigmatic, and interesting shroud to the history of this house, her life, and the fact that some of the doors lead nowhere (which is part of her superstition to trap these spirits). This is also precisely why I wanted so badly to go for the flashlight tour tonight, but of course, with 13 being an unlucky number and the fact that it’s very unlikely my mother will want to stay in a haunted house ’til midnight, the chances of that happening are nearly impossible… for now.

For those of you who’re probably now on the edge of your seat, the enigmatic question still remains. Why on Earth is the number 13 such a bad number? According to About.com, there is a legend that says “If 13 people sit down to dinner together, one will die within the year.” Seems quite ridiculous, doesn’t it? About.com also explains the role of the number 13 in Ancient Egyptian beliefs.

To the ancient Egyptians, we’re told, life was a quest for spiritual ascension which unfolded in stages — twelve in this life and a thirteenth beyond, thought to be the eternal afterlife. The number 13 therefore symbolized death, not in terms of dust and decay but as a glorious and desirable transformation. Though Egyptian civilization perished, the symbolism conferred on the number 13 by its priesthood survived, we may speculate, only to be corrupted by subsequent cultures who came to associate 13 with a fear of death instead of a reverence for the afterlife.

Whether or not you believe in superstitions, for most it’s hard to ignore the occurrences and enigma surrounding the unlucky number. So, whatever you do, whether it be driving, working, or anything else related to daily life, be safe, be careful, and use common sense.

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