23 pins
A “23 Skidoo” pin.

The number “23” gained notoriety through the Twentieth Century for a number of reasons. Many believed it was just as unlucky, if not more so, than the number “13.” There are also people who believe it has mystic properties that relate to most major events. There was a major film in 2007 about the strange number, The Number 23. This surprising film starred the typically goofy Jim Carrey in a remarkably austere role.

The number gained contemporary fame due to the devastation on September 11, 2001. This was when if you add 9+11+2+0+0+1 you get 23. Julius Caesar was stabbed 23 times during his assassination. Many other historic events have also been linked to the number, from the Hiroshima bomb, to the publication of Darwin’s Origin of the Species. The Titanic sank on April 15th, 1912, and 4 + 1 + 5 + 1 + 9 + 1 + 2 = 23. Adolph Hitler tried to overthrow the German government in 1923, but failed. Oddly enough, on March 23, 1933, the German Parliament met to “consider” Hitler’s Enabling Act that would set him up as a dictator.


Pursuing Puzzles in Numbers

Mysteries involving numbers have captured the attention of countless curious persons through time. Many seem too coincidental to be mere coincidence. The number “13” is the most famous enigmatic number of all. Because it has such a following, and such popularity, I’ll omit it for this article. The history behind it demands an article of its own.

Here are some other popular number enigmas that have puzzled and fascinated historians for years:

  • Abraham Lincoln was elected to Congress in 1846.
  • John F. Kennedy was elected to Congress in 1946.
  • Abraham Lincoln was elected President in 1860.
  • John F. Kennedy was elected President in 1960.
  • Andrew Johnson, who succeeded Lincoln , was born in 1808.
  • Lyndon Johnson, who succeeded Kennedy, was born in 1908.

The Illinois lottery held their drawing the day after President Barack Obama’s election in 2008. One of the winning number combinations was 6-6-6.

When archeologists opened the tomb of Tamerlane, they found an inscription that stated whoever opened his tomb would “unleash an invader greater” than he was. It was known as “The Curse of Tamerlane.” The Soviet scholars didn’t believe it, but two days later, on the night of June 22, Nazi Germany invaded Russia with no warning.

The Archduke Ferdinand was assassinated in a car with a license plate that read: “A III 118.” The murder lead to World War 1 and ended with the Armistice on 11-11-18.

Napoleon and Adolph Hitler were born 129 years apart. They came into full power 129 years from one another. They waged war on Russia 129 years apart and were defeated 129 years apart.

The number “33” has gained infamy through the years. It is believed to be associated with occultists, Freemasons, and a number of secret societies.

The number “47” has also gained its own respective legend. On the hit television series Lost, there were 47 survivors when the airplane first crashed on the island. There is also the Japanese legend of the Forty-Seven Ronin.

In Christianity, the number “7” has a holy significance, as it symbolizes completion. Famous spiritualist H. P. Blavatsky also promoted the theory that 7 was an important number.

In Christianity, the number “6” is perceived as a mockery of what is natural, or what is holy. The “Mark of the Beast,” which is “666,” is a multiplication of that unholy state.

In Islam, the number “19” has its own mysterious properties.

Mathematicians regard the number “6147” as having unusual or mysterious meaning.


Back to 23

Many people credit William S. Burroughs with continuing the lore surrounding the number due to his 1960s piece, 23 Skidoo. Actually, the lore surrounding 23 has been ongoing for much longer than that.

The origins of 23 arise from the simple phrase “23 Skidoo.” It was used from the 1890s onward. This essentially meant to flee a situation as soon as possible, or “get out while the getting’s good.” The sentiment towards the number was also carried along the Vaudeville circuit for a number of years. A number of companies used the famed 23 in their advertising around 1900. The legend became so common that stores and businesses advertised with the help of “Number 23” pins.

Some common stories regarding the number were like this:

In the Virginia Enterprise, published on March 27, 1908, Senator Wetmore (RI) occupied seat #23 in the Senate. He was kicked out of the Senate on the 23rd, but the new state legislature simply chose Wetmore to succeed himself. By this point, Wetmore was suspicious of the number. They declared he would be sworn back in on January 23rd, but he declined unless they postponed the proceedings several days. As if it wasn’t strange enough, 23 days after being sworn in, Senator Latimer (SC) died and Wetmore lost his seat #23.

We can then go back another year to a story that ran on February 1, 1907. The Little Falls Herald carried a bizarre tale that may or may not be factual. Engine 2323 was pulling 23 cars when it entered the train yard. It was 23:23 in Canadian time, on January 23. The train ran off the tracks because a switch had split at the 23rd rail.

We can also go much farther back in time, to a copy of the Paint, Oil and Chemical Review, Volume 51, printed by the Trade Review Company in 1883. One of the advertised paint/varnish removal brands was 23 Skidoo. Perhaps this Brooklyn-based enterprise coined the phrase that we discuss today.



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