The number 13 is so entrenched in Western thought as a negative number, it’s not exactly surprising that is shows up hell-related folklore and urban legend. The connection to infernal imagery is almost second-nature, so the concept of 13 floors leading to hell or 13 steps leading down into it don’t seem to cause a lot of questioning from the audience.
The 13 steps to hell legend seems to center most commonly with the Maltby Cemetery in Maltby, Washington. The legend appears to be that a local family, most likely with Satanic ties (why else would they do this?) had a flight of exactly 13 stairs carved into the side of a hill leading down to a stone chair. It is claimed that if you walk down the stairs and sit down at midnight, it is a short cut to selling your soul to the devil. It doesn’t seem to be clear as to why you would do it-it doesn’t seem to be as obvious as asking for a skill or gaining longer life.
Perhaps because of the invocation of hell, the reaction in public discussion of the chair seems to be weighted towards a fear of religious effects. However, the legend also appears to be slightly more complicated than just the initial 13 steps to hell. It appears that at least several versions of the legends exist, with some versions claiming that it’s possible to witness ghosts or other apparitions walking up and down the steps in the graveyard. Further details suggest that there isn’t a chair at the bottom of the steps, that the steps lead directly into hell leading to insanity and other effects (maybe it’s Cthulu. It’s always Cthulu.) Other versions claim that the entire cemetery was built by a Satanic group to house the steps, and the vision at the bottom of the steps is the sight of your own soul in hell.
While this seems to be a fully developed, local legend it does in fact appear in other areas of the country. Similar stories pop up in Kansas, New Mexico, and Central New York. There are similar legends centering around chairs, and other flights of 13 stairs. Perhaps the way that this myth taps into the fear of the afterlife makes it particularly attractive to folkloric thought.