Have you noticed that lots of high-rise hotels don’t have a 13th floor? Ever wonder why that is?
A lot of people say it’s because of superstition – that the number 13 is unlucky and goes right up there with black cats and walking under a ladder.
Welp, as it turns out, that IS the reason why. 😉 But here’s some history about it…
Think what you want about superstition, but 13% (I know, I know. It wasn’t lost on me, either) of people responding to a Gallup Poll said they would be bothered by being assigned a room on the 13th floor. And if you have a bunch of people not wanting to stay on one floor of your hotel, well, that’s a problem if you’re a hotelier. So a lot of hotels just started skipping that number, and their floors went straight from 12 to 14. USA Today wrote about that Gallop Poll several years ago and even J.W. Marriott Jr. was quoted as saying, “It was one of the first things I learned: Don’t go to 13.”
In fact, the Otis Elevators company estimates that 85% of the buildings with their elevators don’t have a named 13th floor.
Of course, not all hotels skip the 13th floor.
And others are sneaky and find ways to get around it…like floor 12A
Or labeling it as M (which is the 13th letter of the alphabet) and/or designating it as the Mechanical floor.
How did the superstition start?
It depends on who you ask.
- Ancient Babylon’s Code of Hammurabi (1700 BC) omitted the number 13 in its list of laws. People kinda lost their minds about that, thinking there was a “reason” for it. As it turned out, it was eventually discovered to just be a clerical error but by that point, it was too late for “take-backsies.”
- Loki, a sneaky and mischievous god in Norse mythology, was said to have arrived at a party in Valhalla as the 13th guest, and it threw chaos into the balance of the 12 gods who were already there. And calamity ensued.
- In Christianity, Judas, the 13th of Jesus’s 12 disciples at the Last Supper, was said to have betrayed Jesus. So again, 13 = badness.
- When skyscrapers started being built in 1885, it was rare for a hotel or other building be more than 12 stories high. That’s because superstitious builders thought that omitting the 13th and subsequent floors would increase street congestion and ominous shadows, and lower property values. Eventually, someone convinced them that it was OK to build taller buildings, but the lack of a 13th floor persisted.
Is this followed everywhere?
Nope. It all depends on where you are, how much faith society has put into the superstitions above, and how much they cater to people who buy into the superstitions above ;-).
There are also some regional variances. For example, in China, some buildings avoid floors that end in the number 4 (i.e. 4th, 14th, 24th, etc.) because the word “four” in Mandarin sounds similar to the word “death.”