The Thirteenth Floor

Chances are if you enter a skyscraper in The United States upon looking at the elevator sequences, you will notice that the elevators jump from twelve to fourteen with no mention of how to get to the thirteenth floor.  If you leave the elevator and try to take the stairs to the thirteenth floor you will find it likewise impossible.

But if there is a 12th floor and a 14th floor there must be a thirteenth floor, right?  Many developers and engineers are told to leave out this number as investors consider it unlucky.  Part of this is superstition, but part is also pragmatism.  If a fire breaks out on the thirteenth floor the man responsible for ignoring the warnings of others often shares some of the blame for the fires even if they are told it was an accident or engineering failure.  Some superstitious people refuse to get off the elevator or even let it stop on the thirteenth floor if the elevator has thirteen or more floors.  As a result, this superstition gets in the way of progress and productivity.  The solution?  Take the 13th floor and call it something else.  Designations for the thirteenth floor range to everything from the letter M for being the 13th to designating it floor 12A or 12B.  The end result is often a feeling of relief from those suffering from triskaidekaphobia.  The mere mention of the number 13 sends those with triskaidekaphobia quickly into feeling uneasy and depending on the severity of the disease can offset outright panic.

And as a result of these numbers missing on the console of elevators, there have been a number of legends surrounding the floors as well.  One typical urban legend has it that a person new to an office building entered the elevator on his way to the 20th floor.  It was late at night and few people were still in the building, so when he saw that someone had already pressed the number thirteen on the way up he was surprised.  As he reached the thirteenth floor, however, he noticed that the doors opened upon a scene unlike anything he had ever imagined.  This is where the story varies.  Some accounts say the scene is of an abandoned building, others suggest a strange creature is seen on the thirteenth floor that inevitably notices the man and is stopped short only as the sliding doors are closed, others say a woman gets on at the thirteenth floor and then disappears halfway up the elevator ride after saying nothing.  When the man approaches someone else about the incident, the man says, “This building doesn’t have a thirteenth floor.  It goes from 12 to 14.”  The man goes back later to the elevator to confirm that the panel had been somehow changed since the incident.  This very story was even channeled in the 1999 film “The Thirteenth Floor,” though the theme changed significantly.

And what of the buildings that do have a thirteenth floor?  Whether due to bad luck or a self fulfilling prophecy that it is unlucky, the floors do have a reputation as being incredibly unlucky.  Suicides, fires, and other accidents are often taken extra note of when they occur on the thirteenth floor.