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Freaking out about Friday the 13th
July 13, 2007, 12:00 AM By Dana Yates
Avoiding black cats, tiptoeing around cracks and sidestepping ladders will help the superstitious deal with Friday the 13th and it’s a brave few who will schedule a wedding or set out on a major journey today.

But all that fear could be for not.

There’s no hard scientific evidence supporting the occurrence of extra bad luck on Friday the 13th, but there’s plenty of evidence that proves people fear it anyway.

A 2003 report published in the American Journal of Psychiatry indicates that women are more likely to get in a car accident on Friday the 13th — mostly because they are so afraid that something bad will happen they drive poorly. In that report, an estimated 38 percent of traffic deaths involving women on this day were attributable to Friday the 13th itself.

American’s have long feared the number 13. Most skyscrapers in San Francisco do not include a 13th floor on the elevator buttons. There is no 13th Avenue in San Francisco — it was replaced with Funston Avenue. In Redwood City, what would be 13th Avenue is San Benito Avenue. San Mateo has a 13th Avenue.

By most accounts, Friday the 13th was first referenced in the 1900s. However, the number 13 has long had a bad connotation. There were the 13 guests at the Last Supper, when Judas left to seal the fate of Jesus. A more recent theory, made popular by The Da Vinci Code book, has to do with a single catastrophe involving the Knights Templar more than 700 years ago.

The catastrophe was the decimation of the Knights Templar, the legendary order of "warrior monks” formed during the Christian Crusades to combat Islam. Renowned as a fighting force for 200 years, by the 1300s the order had grown so pervasive and powerful it was perceived as a political threat by kings and popes alike and brought down by a church-state conspiracy, according the book Tales of the Knights Templar by Katherine Kurtz.

"On October 13, 1307, a day so infamous that Friday the 13th would become a synonym for ill fortune, officers of King Philip IV of France carried out mass arrests in a well-coordinated dawn raid that left several thousand Templars — knights, sergeants, priests and serving brethren — in chains, charged with heresy, blasphemy, various obscenities and homosexual practices,” according to the book.

It’s been estimated that $800 or $900 million is lost in business on this day because people will not fly or do business they would normally do, Donald Dossey, founder of the Stress Management Center and Phobia Institute in Asheville, N.C. told National Geographic News in 2004.

If all this has you a little worried. Don’t worry, there’s a name for it. Psychiatrists have given names to the debilitating phobias for people who fear the number 13 (triskaidekaphobia) or Friday the 13th (paraskavedekatriaphobia or friggatriskaidekaphobia).

Remedies include refocusing your thoughts. You might want to try the flashlight tour of the Winchester Mystery House in San Jose offered this evening.

13 facts about Friday the 13th

• Belief that the number 13 is unlucky is the most common Western superstition;

• Every month has a 13th, but no single year has more than three Friday the 13ths and on average there are two;

• Months with Friday the 13th always begin with a Sunday;

• Infamous murderers Charles Manson, Harold Shipman, Frederick West, Saddam Hussein, Jeffrey Dahmer, John Wayne Gacy, Theodore Bundy and the Jack the Ripper each have 13 letters in their names;

• There is no 13th Avenue in San Francisco or Redwood City;

• In Formula 1, there is no car with the number 13. The number was removed after two drivers with that number were killed in crashes;

• In a traditional hangman’s noose there are 13 twists of the rope;

• There are 13 steps to the gallows;

• Asteroid 2004 MN4 will come scarily close to Earth on April 13, 2029, but it will not hit;

• Paraskavedekatriaphobia is the fear of Friday the 13th;

• Tarot Card number 13 is the Death Card, depicting the Grim Reaper;

• 13 feet which the guillotine blade falls;

• A "quatrorzieme” is a professional 14th guest hired by the French who had only 13 guests in attendance for dinner.

Dana Yates can be reached by e-mail: or by phone: (650) 344-5200 ext. 106.

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