News & Politics

13 Strange Superstitions and Urban Legends for Friday the 13th

A list of unhinged urban legends, awful ancient curses, and silly superstitions specific to the DC area.

Photo illustration by Andrew Beaujon.
Halloween Hunter

About Halloween Hunter

Reporter Hunter Spears haunts the DC area looking for the delightfully demented and the spectacularly spooky.

Today is the first Friday the 13th in October since 2017. We recommend you avoid stepping on any cracks, carry your luckiest rabbit’s foot, and check out these 13 local curses, cryptids, and superstitions.

Two Curses

Between the seat of governmental power and hosting a plethora of museums full of artifacts, there’s plenty of curses swirling around the District, but these are two of the most famous.

1. The Curse of Tippecanoe

In 1811, Governor William Henry Harrison defeated the Shawnee at the Battle of Tippecanoe, but the Shawnee would have their revenge. Tenskwatawa, a prophet and brother of the Shawnee’s leader, placed a curse upon the “Great White Fathers,” and when Harrison won the presidency in 1840, he perished just 32 days after taking office. Only the curse did not die with him.

For years, almost every president who won an election in years divisible by 20 died in office. Abraham Lincoln (elected 1860), James Garfield (1880), William McKinley (1900) and JFK (1960) were all supposedly part of the curse. Warren G. Harding (1920) died of a heart attack, and FDR (who won office a third time in 1940) died of a hemorrhage. However, it seems Reagan, elected in 1980, broke the curse when he survived his assassination attempt. George W. Bush (2000) made it out just fine, and Joe Biden (2020) “remains a healthy, vigorous, 80-year-old male,” according to the White House.

2. The Curse of the Hope Diamond

Don’t be fooled by this gem’s dazzling beauty: Those who try and wield its charm are doomed to disastrous fates! The story goes that the Tavernier Blue, an even bigger diamond from which the Hope Diamond was cut, was stolen by a French merchant from a statue in India in the 17th century. His looting did not go unpunished, as he, and many others who came in contact with the stone, have been cursed with terrible fates.

Marie Antoinette lost her head to the guillotine. Wilhelm Fals, who cut the Hope Diamond we know today, was murdered by his son, who then took his own life as well. Simon Maoncharides drove himself, his wife and child off a cliff. In 1912, DC resident Evalyn Walsh McLean came into possession of the diamond, and had her own string of bad luck. Her 9-year-old son was hit by a car and killed, her daughter died of an overdose, and her husband went insane. The diamond now resides at the Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History, safe behind glass where it can’t hurt anyone else.

Five Cryptids

The actual hatchet embedded in the car door in Bunny Man attack. Photograph by KeeferC/Wikimedia Commons.

Cryptids are otherworldly beings from urban legends, like bigfoot or the chupacabra, but did you know we’ve got a couple of these strange beasts roaming around in our backyard?

3. Demon Cat

This phantasmal feline was first spotted in 1862 by a (possibly drunk) guard in the basement of the Capitol. Allegedly the “Demon Cat” can grow to the size of an elephant, has eyes that glow like headlights on a fire truck and shrieks like a boiling kettle. As if that wasn’t enough, the cat is said to make appearances foretelling great tragedies, like the assassination of JFK, so you really don’t want this black cat to cross your path.

4. Snallygaster

Originally named the Schneller Geist (“quick spirit”) by German immigrants in the 18th century, the “Snallygaster” is a large, flying lizard whose mouth is a terrible mix of beak and tentacles. It uses its single, blazing red eye to hunt for prey like young children. Apparently Theodore Roosevelt, big game hunter that he was, even tried his hand at hunting the creature at one point. These days, the Snallygaster can be found not terrorizing the youth but instead showcasing craft breweries.

5. Bunny Man

The “Bunny Man” is perhaps the most credible creep on this list, making their mark on history as recent as the 1970s. On an October night, a couple parked in Fairfax reportedly  saw a man in a white hood with long bunny ears throw a hatchet through their window. Over time, the story has grown more baroque, incorporating a creepy bridge, an escapee from an asylum, and dead rabbits.

6. Goat Man

Virginia may have the Bunny Man, but Maryland has the “Goat Man”: a human-goat hybrid that supposedly stalks the forests of Prince George’s County, scaring teens and decapitating dogs. Some legends date his appearances back to the 1950s, but “Goat Man Fever” really kicked off in the ’70s. His origin varies across stories from a goat-herder seeking vengeance for his slaughtered flock to an experiment gone wrong at the Beltsville Agricultural Research Center.

7. Chessie

The Loch Ness Monster’s cousin across the pond, “Chessie” is a large, aquatic creature who rules the waters of the Chesapeake. Her legend began in 1936, when a military helicopter reported seeing something reptilian and unknown in the water. Stories and reports reached a peak in the ’80s, with the Smithsonian weighing in on a videotape which claimed to be evidence of her existence.


Six Proposed Legends

A rare sighting of the money train. Photograph by Swagging/Wikimedia Commons.

We thought we could use a little more magic in the District, so to round out our list we came up with some suggested legends. Are they made up? Could be… but you’ll never know for sure unless you try them!

8. Georgetown Metro

If you step on every odd step of the Exorcist stairs, you’ll unlock Georgetown’s secret Metro station hidden behind the steps. Maybe don’t actually try this, or you might end up like Father Karras.

9. The Capitals

During the 13th minute of the 3rd period, if all the fans in Capital One Arena stand up and spin, the Capitals will score. Try this one at the game on Friday!

10. J St

If you don’t pay your bus fare three times in a row, you’ll exit on J Street, Northwest.

11. Metro Escalator

If you see the money train, it’s typically good luck, but if you are the only one on the platform when it comes, you are doomed to seven months of people standing on the left side of the escalator when you’re in a hurry.

12. Brood X

If you eat too many cicadas, then in 17 years, no matter where in the world you are, Brood X will find you.

13. Dupont Circle Fountain

The fountain at Dupont Circle actually got fixed years ago but they keep it shut off as part of the War on Rats.

Editorial Fellow

Hunter is a cat-loving Coloradoan who enjoys history, Halloween and board games. He studied audio production and radio storytelling at Hofstra University before moving to DC in 2022. During his editorial fellowship with Washingtonian in the fall of 2023, he ran Halloween Hunter, a section featuring local stories for the spooky season.