Friday the 13th July 1894 was a miserably unlucky day, reports ANDREW GARVEY
The number 13 has been considered unlucky by a wide range of civilisations for at least the last three thousand years.
And in many societies, Friday has traditionally been considered an unfortunate day. Yes, Friday. Not the far more troubling Monday so hated by countless millions today.
The two beliefs, of course, have merged together over time. A messy melange of hard-to-believe tales and downright odd prophecies that throws in stuff about black cats, births, funeral processions and even haircuts being especially unfortunate on any given Friday the 13th actually make people wary of leaving their house on the date in question.
Popular culture has made much of it, too.
In 1980, producer-director Sean S. Cunningham placed an ad for his upcoming film, in Variety despite not having a completed script. Surely, Cunningham reasoned, the title Friday the 13th was enough? It was.
Dan Brown’s blockbuster novel the Da Vinci Code makes a big deal of a 14th century massacre of the Knights Templar on that date but those who learn their history from Dan Brown books are on about as solid a foundation as those who learn it from Oliver Stone films. Shaky indeed.
But back to the Victorians. Superstitious as they may have been, the Friday the 13th meme doesn’t seem to have had a firm grip on the public consciousness in their era. But on at least one of them exactly 120 years ago today – Friday the 13th July 1894 – plenty of unpleasant things happened.
Though in all fairness to the era, that hardly made it an unusual day.
Here’s just a brief snapshot of the day’s more gruesome and unpleasant happenings, as described in the following Saturday’s newspapers.
Friday the 13th in Wandsworth
In Putney Bridge Road, Wandsworth, concerned neighbours used a ladder to peer through the first floor window of an old man named Parkin only to be met with the ghastly sight of him “hanging by a rope round his neck to the bed-post.” (Illustrated Police News)
Friday the 13th in Peckham
In St. George’s Road Peckham, “a serious stabbing affray” took place during a row between a man and a woman. He “suddenly drew a large knife from his pocket and stabbed the woman just over the heart.” He made another attempt “but his arm was knocked up by a woman standing by.” The injured party was treated by a doctor in a nearby pub. Yes, a pub. And was subsequently sent home while the stabber earned himself a free ride to the police station. (Illustrated Police News)
Friday the 13th in Wrexham
In Wrexham, 35-year-old tailor John Henry Williams’ body was discovered. The “deceased has been drinking lately… he was seen going upstairs to his room. He had a small bottle in his hand, and said he was going to take some of the contents in order to steady his nerves” reported the Wrexham Advertiser, speculating that he’d been poisoned.
Friday the 13th in Canterbury
In Canterbury “considerable sensation was created… by the discovery”, floating dead in an open-air swimming pool of one William Epps. Recently separated from his wife, the “semi-intoxicated” Epps, who carried “a revolver and some ball cartridges” had sent word to his wife that he wanted to meet her alone. She refused and he attempted to break into the house. His body was found later and the inquest, held the very same evening, recorded that most popular of Victorian inquest results – an open verdict. (Nottingham Evening Post)
But of course, no matter what was taking place in Britain, the Victorian papers were always more than happy to detail the utter beastliness of the distant Europeans. Several newspapers ran the following, truly horrifying story from Germany:
“A dreadful occurrence is reported from the village of Kreutzeber, near Heiligenstadt, in the district of Erfut. A peasant chopped off both the hands of his own little child in a passion, because while left to itself it had torn up two 100 mark bills, the price the peasant had received for a cow. The mother, who came in on hearing the heart-piercing cries of the child, fell dead at the sight of the infant lying in a pool of blood.”