Imagine that you are checking into a hotel when the person working at the counter hands you a key and tells you to take the elevator to the right to reach your room on floor number 13. For those who suffer from triskaidekaphobia, the scenario described above could be terrifying. Triskaidekaphobia is a medical condition ascribed to people with a fear of the number 13. While many would quickly dismiss this phobia as pure superstition, those who suffer from extreme cases of triskaidekaphobia find their fear to be very real with physical symptoms such as nausea, difficulty breathing, increased heart rate and a sense of panic.
There is no consensus on where the fear of the number 13 originates, but the fear is generally understood to be a construct of Western societies. Some trace the unlucky origins of 13 to the omission of a 13th law in the Code of Hammurabi. Others point to the biblical story of Judas Iscariot being the 13th person to arrive at the Last Supper. Another explanation links the bad luck of 13 to the evil Norse god Loki.
While its origins are unknown, the belief in the unlucky nature of the number 13 is widespread enough that it has impacted how floors on tall buildings are numbered. Recent statistics cited in Bloomberg article indicate that less than 10 percent of condominiums 13 stories or taller built in New York City since 2003 have 13th floors. Furthermore, Otis International, a manufacturer of elevators, leaves the number 13 off of an estimated 85 percent of the elevators it sells to buildings with 13 stories or more.
While high percentages of buildings make accommodations for those afraid of 13, the actual percentage of people in America who fear the number is small. A USA TODAY/Gallup poll conducted in 2007 ironically found that only 13 percent of those surveyed would take issue with being assigned a room on the 13th floors of hotels. Despite the relatively small percentage of people bothered by the number 13, hotel and big building owners, concerned with their bottom line, do not want to alienate any customers, so they choose to avoid the number 13 when numbering the floors of their buildings.
Several hotels and buildings with 13 or more floors have used creative numbering schemes to prevent having 13th floors. For example, one building with 14 floors in New York City labeled its top three floors “12, 12M, 14.” Other tall buildings simply get around having 13th floors by designating them as 12B or 14A.
So what evidence is there of creepy, paranormal activities on 13th floors? The answer is not much more than a few urban legends.
One urban legend focuses on the Warwick Hotel in Huntington,Indiana that burnt down on October 13, 1994, killing a reported 302 people. Rumors that the owner and his wife practiced secret rituals on the hotel’s 13th floor had circulated for many years before the burning. Today the site of the Warwick Hotel is marked as a haunted tourist destination
Another urban legend involving paranormal activity centers around the Algonquin Hotel in New York City where guests have reported hearing noises from renovated attic located on the 13th floor. In addition to noises, guests have reported seeing ghosts in the hotel’s lobby and dining room.
The stories of bad things happening on 13th floors are few. At the end of the day, there is very little evidence to suggest that the fear of the number 13 is anything more than a superstition of mysterious origins held by a small percentage of the population. Still, even if it is just superstition, the belief that 13 is unlucky might have an impact on what floor your next hotel room is located.
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