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The "Missing" 13th Floor: Understanding the Superstition

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July 29, 2021
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If you’ve ever ridden an elevator in a high-rise building, you might have noticed a peculiar thing on the elevator panel: there is no button for the 13th floor. Now that you think about it, when was the last time you stayed in a hotel room or renting an apartment on the 13th floor?

Obviously, a building that has two stories or more would have a physical 13th floor, but have you ever wondered why building developers would avoid marking the 13th floor on an elevator or a building plan?

Let’s find out!

The Historical Significance of the Number 13

If you flip through the history books, you would find several reasons why various cultures have considered the number 13 as a symbol of bad luck, or worse, a sign of bad times ahead.

One of the most widespread superstitions about the number 13 has Biblical roots. After the Last Supper, Jesus was betrayed by Judas, who was considered to be the 13th disciple. What’s more, the thirteenth chapter of the book of Revelation is about the coming of the “Great Beast” and the anti-Christ.

Aside from religious influence, the number 13 also showed up prominently as a symbol of misfortune and death in another literary banquet. In Norse mythology, the story goes that there was a feast planned for Baldur, the god of all beauty in the world. Twelve gods were invited to the banquet, except for Loki, who felt angry at being left out. In revenge, Loki crafted a devious plan that ended in Baldur getting murdered at the feast. Since Loki was the thirteenth guest, the story has also contributed to the unlucky reputation of the number.

Finally, the number 13 has also been a cause for concern in architecture. In the early 1900s, when New York was just starting to build skyscrapers, architects were wary of creating buildings that were thirteen floors or higher. They argued that the height of the buildings would cast “permanent shadows” on the pavements and cause property values to crash. They were proven wrong, of course, given that today, New York has some of the most expensive real estate in the world.

Science and the Number 13

The notion of the number 13 being so unlucky has been so ingrained in human consciousness that it has become a recognized phobia.

Triskaidekaphobia is an irrational fear of the number 13. While for most people, their fear around the number 13 is based on superstition, those who have triskaidekaphobia are much more affected by their fear of the number. During Friday the 13th, it is estimated that around $800 to $900 million in revenue are lost because people are afraid to fly or do business. Some people even go as far as avoiding the number 13 altogether, such as avoiding the channel 13 on the TV or not sleeping in any hotel room with the number 13.

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Getting Around the Superstition

If developers won’t label the 13th floor as, well, the 13th floor, how do property owners get around it?

Here are some creative ways of avoiding the dreaded label:

  • Skipped - the easiest way to get around putting 13 on the floor numbering is simply by skipping it altogether. This is why you’ll see elevator panels go from 12 straight to 14.
  • Adding letters - In some cases, you’ll see additional letters placed after the official 12th floor. You will see this as 12, 12A, 14 on the elevator panel.
  • The letter M - since the letter M is the 13th letter of the alphabet, some elevators use “M” on the panel instead of the number 13. Some hotels will even build a floor around the letter “M”, and designate the floor as a mezzanine level.
  • Special floors - Hotels can also designate the 13th floor as a special floor, such as a ballroom or swimming pool.

Landlords and the Number 13

So, now that you know the reasons why the number 13 is considered unlucky, why does it have a real-world impact when it comes to real estate?

The answer is simple: it’s all about money.

Given that there was a general unease over the number 13, property owners and developers decided to err on the side of caution and skipped using the number as much as possible. Rather than risk alienating potential renters, it was much easier to just go straight to the number 14 when numbering floors and rooms.

Famous US Buildings without a 13th Floor

Are there any famous buildings in the US that don’t have the 13th floor until today? Yes! Here are some examples:

  • Hotel Burnham (Chicago) - while the 13th floor is still used as a residential floor, the hotel has skipped the number 13 in its floor plans.
  • Trump Tower (Chicago) - the 13th floor is designated as a mezzanine level.
  • The Essex House (NYC) - This hotel also skips the number 13.
  • The Sherry-Netherland (NYC) - Not only does this hotel not have a 13th floor, but even the room numbers also avoid using the number 13 because of superstitious guests.

Final Thoughts

Today, the mystique surrounding the number 13 when it comes to apartments or hotels pretty much boils down to individual beliefs. A study conducted in 2007 shows that 87% of Americans don’t really care about staying on the 13th floor in a hotel. However, elevator manufacturer Mowrey Elevators state that 85% of the elevators they make don’t have the number 13 on the elevator panel.

Ultimately, it is up to you whether or not you believe that 13 is an unlucky number. If you don’t believe in superstition, you might have an easier time getting a hotel room or getting approved for a lease that’s on the 13th floor!

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