Once or twice a year on Friday the 13th, tattoo parlors participate in an unofficial community celebration and offer tattoos and piercings for reduced prices. On Oct. 13, tattoo parlors across Chicago will once again take part in this time-honored tradition.
Specifics vary from shop to shop. Hard Core Element Tattoo Shop, 3265 S. Archer Ave., will be open from noon to midnight Oct. 13 to offer customers a $13 tattoo of their own design, provided it fits within a 3-by-3 inch space and has no more than two colors.
Most stores offer selections off of tattoo flash sheets. Taylor Street Tattoo, 1150 W. Taylor St., will hold a 24-hour tattoo marathon and offer pre-drawn designs, all of which are in red and black ink in addition to containing the number “13” to commemorate the occasion. These will cost $13, plus a $7 tip. Twisted Tattoo Studio, 4168 N. Elston Ave., will be open from 11 a.m. to 11 p.m. and will also offer the chance to select a design from a sheet of examples for $20.
“It’s more about the superstition, for sure,” said Fernando Hernandez, owner and tattoo artist at Twisted Tattoo Studio. The company’s designs for the event include broken mirrors and black cats with the number 13. “It goes with the old folk tales and the old superstition stories that we all grew up with.”
Theories abound on how Friday the 13th became associated with bad luck. The late folklore historian Donald E. Dossey attributed the superstition about the number 13 to a Norse myth in which a dinner of 12 gods was interrupted by a 13th guest, the mischievous Loki, who convinced another god to shoot his brother, according to an Aug. 12, 2004, National Geographic article.
Phillips Stevens, Jr., associate professor of anthropology at the University at Buffalo, traces the number’s negative connotations to the Christian Last Supper story, during which Judas, who ultimately betrayed Jesus, is said to have arrived as the 13th guest, according to a Feb. 9, 2004, University at Buffalo press release.
Meanwhile, Friday was considered unlucky beginning in medieval times as “Hangman’s Day,” psychologist Stuart Vyse told National Geographic in a Sept. 13, 2013, article.
This mix of bad luck and religious superstition is part of the holiday’s appeal, Hernandez said. The low cost could also entice anyone who always wanted a tattoo but was intimidated by the price tag, he added.
“[It’s] a good way of talking people into getting something,” he said. “Sometimes it’s easier to get people to get their first [tattoo] when they know it’s small and when the price is so cheap.”
Brad Rearden, owner of Taylor Street Tattoo, agreed. “It’s a novelty, it’s fun, it’s inexpensive [and] it’s quick,” he said. “I know sometimes people don’t have a lot of money to spend on tattoos.”
Theodore Sullivan, a freshman cinema and television arts major who has two tattoos, said he plans on attending Twisted Tattoo Studio’s event so he can participate in what he called a “tattoo holiday.”
Sullivan said he likes having a story behind each tattoo, whether that story be a personal meaning or an aesthetic decision, but the appeal of a Friday the 13th tattoo is simply the tradition’s place in tattoo culture.
“It symbolizes that you were there on that date, participating in that Friday the 13th event,” Sullivan said.