Luck Crafted on an Unlucky Day: The Story Behind Friday the 13th Tattoos

By Samantha Reichstein

Black cats with piercing green eyes, ladders left sprawled open and a full-length mirror shattered into sharp, reflected fragments –– these all fall under the category of avoidable items, especially on the unlucky day known as Friday the 13th.

Not all, however, view this day as one filled with misery. In fact, some see the special number as an opportunity to harp on luck that can only be found in a certain place; one filled with loud music, packed lines and the incessant buzzing of art forming on human skin: A tattoo shop.

In 1995, tattoo artist Oliver Peck turned a local event into a full-fledged holiday from his personal shop in Dallas, Texas. On Friday the 13th of that year, Peck kept his shop, Elm Street Tattoo, open for 24 hours. With discounted tattoos, $13.00 to be exact, customers could seal the deal of cheap ink as long as the design chosen incorporated the numbers one and three. At the end of the night, tattoo artists and customers alike found a silver lining in the infamous, spooky day.

This idea spread to tattoo artists and shop owners, fitting right in with the quirky and artistic city of Austin, Texas. Now more than a decade after its debut, Friday the 13th deals are a known tradition, followed religiously by tattoo artists near and far. One in particular, Randy Conner, knows firsthand the unique experience this man-made holiday creates. While this past Friday the 13th landed on October, bringing an extra sense of eeriness to the activity, Conner said regardless of the time of the year, this tradition follows a familiar pattern.

“I’ve only been in the industry for around two years, but have worked five Friday the 13th deals, and each one pretty much follows the pattern,” Conner said. “It’s honestly the same every single time: Non-stop people all day and there is never a break.”

Conner works in the tattoo parlor above Spiderhouse Café, where on Oct. 13 he tattooed 46 people in a 12-hour time frame.

“Every time, there seems to be two or three designs super popular, so you’re doing the same ones over and over. It’s kind of funny, because of all offered on the flash sheet, there are 10 total that are chosen from everyone,” Conner said.

While Conner has never gotten a Friday the 13th tattoo, and said he probably never will, he doesn’t let his mindset on the ordeal rub off on excited clients.

“There’s definitely a wide spectrum of attitudes about this ‘deal,’ and a lot of artists don’t even participate because the think it’s stupid,” Conner said. “Their tattoo is not for me, so even if it’s something dumb I try to give them the best experience. No one deserves to have me with a bad attitude just because it’s a design I may not like.”

University of Texas at Austin junior Kylie Kahn is one of the many tattoo enthusiasts who has jumped on the Friday the 13th deal not once, but twice. She said the holiday is something she’s grown to love, since it gives her the opportunity to see something and get it without having to worry about the cost. While she loves getting the art done for a discounted rate, she said it’s more than just getting a new tattoo because they are cheap.

“My first Friday the 13th tattoo is a roman numeral of 13 under my ribcage, which I would have gotten regardless of the price,” Kahn said.  “My mom, sister, and I were all born on the 13th of various months, so that number is extremely lucky and sentimental to my family.”

Kahn’s other Friday the 13th tattoo doesn’t even have the number in it at all. She found a Snoopy pre-set design, asked for it to be modified, and the artist ended up excluding the number from the tattoo altogether.

“It’s funny because I saw the Snoopy, instantly thought of my dad, and asked for it to be modified,” Kahn said. “I got this awesome tattoo—my only visible one actually—and I never would have even thought to get it if I hadn’t shown up that day.”

While the tradition of Friday the 13th tattoos will occur again as soon as April 2018, the next one to land in October is not until 2023. It’s safe to say those looking for an affordable, permanent marking however won’t let the month stop them for joining in on the ritual.

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