First, Princess Diana dies in 31.08.1997 (aged 36)
Then Mother Teresa dies in 05.09.1997 (aged 87).
Next, ex-Phillies star Richie Ashburn dies in 09.09.1997 (aged 70).
OK, so Ashburn wasn’t a mega-celebrity outside Phillies land or a living saint to any but diehard baseball fans. For Philadelphians, though, his death is probably enough to make some wonder if there’s something to the old superstition that “bad things come in threes.”
Folklorists say the belief that good or bad things come in threes is an ancient superstition that remains a strong modern belief.
“All cultures have ritual numbers but they don’t have the same ritual numbers,” explained Alan Dundes, a professor of anthropology and folklore at the University of Southern California at Berkley.
He said Americans have a propensity to see things in threes.
For Native Americans, it’s four, and for the Chinese, it’s five.
“It is very deep in our culture in terms of religion – the father, son and holy ghost,” said Dundes, whose book “Interpreting Folklore” has a chapter on the significance of the number three in American culture.
“It’s in our names. We have three names . . . We say, “It’s as easy as one, two, three,” he said. “You just take it for granted that . . . all this stuff is somehow in threes.”
Then, there are all the three-oriented phrases like “the third time’s a charm,” “going down for the third time,” and “Tic tac toe, three in a row.”
Plus, there are numerous three-worded phrases: “win, lose or draw”, “we shall overcome”, “fat, dumb and happy” and “snap, crackle and pop.”
The importance of the number three comes from many ancient sources.
But Dundes, who describes himself as a Freudian, said he believes it’s sort of a subliminal symbol of male genitalia.
“It’s like putting a masculine stamp on things,” he said.
Folklorist Claudia de Lys writes that it springs from the basic observation about the mystery of birth.
“If lucky, the contact of two persons brought forth life, so that three meant life or action in everything,” de Lys writes in a “Treasury of American Superstitions.”
She believes the concept that three bad things happen together is based on the psychological need to believe that a bad cycle will end.
So, should Hall-of-Famer Ashburn even be counted with Princess Diana and Mother Teresa? The answer is probably – but only if you are a sports fan from Philly.