By the numbers
Here are 13 more facts about the infamous day, courtesy of Fernsler and some of our own research:
1. The British Navy built a ship named Friday the 13th. On its maiden voyage, the vessel left dock on a Friday the 13th, and was never heard from again.
2. The ill-fated Apollo 13 launched at 13:13 CST on Apr. 11, 1970. The sum of the date's digits (4-11-70) is 13 (as in 4+1+1+7+0 = 13). And the explosion that crippled the spacecraft occurred on April 13 (not a Friday). The crew did make it back to Earth safely, however.
3. Many hospitals have no room 13, while some tall buildings skip the 13th floor.
4. Fear of Friday the 13th - one of the most popular myths in science - is called paraskavedekatriaphobia as well as friggatriskaidekaphobia. Triskaidekaphobia is fear of the number 13.
5. Quarterback Dan Marino wore No. 13 throughout his career with the Miami Dolphins. Despite being a superb quarterback (some call him one of the best ever), he got to the Super Bowl just once, in 1985, and was trounced 38-16 by the San Francisco 49ers and Joe Montana (who wore No. 16 and won all four Super Bowls he played in).
6. Butch Cassidy, notorious American train and bank robber, was born on Friday, April 13, 1866.
7. Fidel Castro was born on Friday, Aug. 13, 1926.
8. President Franklin D. Roosevelt would not travel on the 13th day of any month and would never host 13 guests at a meal. Napoleon and Herbert Hoover were also triskaidekaphobic, with an abnormal fear of the number 13.
9. Superstitious diners in Paris can hire a quatorzieme, or professional 14th guest. Another scary legend of friday-the-13th
10. Mark Twain once was the 13th guest at a dinner party. A friend warned him not to go. "It was bad luck," Twain later told the friend. "They only had food for 12."
11. Woodrow Wilson considered 13 his lucky number, though his experience didn't support such faith. He arrived in Normandy, France on Friday, Dec. 13, 1918, for peace talks, only to return with a treaty he couldn't get Congress to sign. (The ship's crew wanted to dock the next day due to superstitions, Fernsler said.) He toured the United States to rally support for the treaty, and while traveling, suffered a near-fatal stroke. The scary legend of Friday the 13th continues.
12. The number 13 suffers from its position after 12, according to numerologists who consider the latter to be a complete number - 12 months in a year, 12 signs of the zodiac, 12 gods of Olympus, 12 labors of Hercules, 12 tribes of Israel, 12 apostles of Jesus, 12 days of Christmas and 12 eggs in a dozen.
13. The seals on the back of a dollar bill include 13 steps on the pyramid, 13 stars above the eagle's head, 13 war arrows in the eagle's claw and 13 leaves on the olive branch. So far there's been no evidence tying these long-ago design decisions to the present economic situation.
Origins of Friday the 13th
Where's all this superstition come from? Nobody knows for sure. But it may date back to Biblical times (the 13th guest at the Last Supper betrayed Jesus). By the Middle Ages, both Friday and 13 were considered bearers of bad fortune.
Meanwhile the belief that numbers are connected to life and physical things - called numerology - has a long history.
"You can trace it all the way from the followers of Pythagoras, whose maxim to describe the universe was 'all is number,'" says Mario Livio, an astrophysicist and author of "The Equation That Couldn't Be Solved" (Simon & Schuster, 2005). Thinkers who studied under the famous Greek mathematician combined numbers in different ways to explain everything around them, Livio said.
In modern times, numerology has become a type of para-science, much like the meaningless predictions of astrology, scientists say.
"People are subconsciously drawn towards specific numbers because they know that they need the experiences, attributes or lessons, associated with them, that are contained within their potential," says professional numerologist Sonia Ducie. "Numerology can 'make sense' of an individual's life (health, career, relationships, situations and issues) by recognizing which number cycle they are in, and by giving them clarity."
Mathematicians dismiss numerology as having no scientific merit, however.
"I don't endorse this at all," Livio said, when asked to comment on the popularity of commercial numerology for a story prior to the date 06/06/06. Seemingly coincidental connections between numbers will always appear if you look hard enough, he said.
Friday the 13th, the most widespread superstition
The sixth day of the week and the number 13 both have foreboding reputations said to date from ancient times, and their inevitable conjunction from one to three times a year (there happen to be three such occurrences in 2009, two of them right in a row) portends more misfortune than some credulous minds can bear. According to experts it's the most widespread superstition in the United States today. Some people won't go to work on Friday the 13th; some won't eat in restaurants; many wouldn't think of setting a wedding on the date.
How many Americans at the turn of the new millennium actually suffer from this condition? According to Dr. Donald Dossey, a psychotherapist specializing in the treatment of phobias (and coiner of the term paraskevidekatriaphobia, also spelled paraskavedekatriaphobia), the figure may be as high as 21 million. If he's right, eight percent of Americans are still in the grips of a very old superstition.
Exactly how old is difficult to say, because determining the origins of superstitions is an inexact science, at best. In fact, it's mostly guesswork.
LEGEND HAS IT:
If 13 people sit down to dinner together, one will die within the year. The Turks so disliked the number 13 that it was practically expunged from their vocabulary (Brewer, 1894). Many cities do not have a 13th Street or a 13th Avenue. Many buildings don't have a 13th floor. If you have 13 letters in your name, you will have the devil's luck (Jack the Ripper, Charles Manson, Jeffrey Dahmer, Theodore Bundy and Albert De Salvo all have 13 letters in their names). There are 13 witches in a coven.
Although no one can say for sure when and why human beings first associated the number 13 with misfortune, the superstition is assumed to be quite old, and there exist any number of theories — most of which deserve to be treated with a healthy skepticism, please note — purporting to trace its origins to antiquity and beyond.
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