WASHINGTON — If Franklin Delano Roosevelt was alive and President right now, he would not want to host a dinner party tonight. But if he had to, and if the dinner was planned for 14 and one guest didn't show up, he would order his secretary, Grace Tully, to hurry and join them rather than allow 13 people to dine at a table.
If Irene Stein was having labor pains today, she would do what she did on Friday, Nov. 13, 1959: Ask her doctors not to deliver her baby until after midnight. (They complied.)
Coldwell Banker sales agent Brenda Reed was supposed to be closing a deal on a Bel-Air home today, but the fidgety buyer insisted that the sale not be recorded until Monday.
Back to the Norse Gods
That is fear of the number 13. Dreading 13, and especially Friday the 13th, goes back thousands of years to the Norse gods and still thrives in the minds of countless people worldwide.
In Paris, 20-year-old Alexis Glorieux occasionally hires himself out for 1,000 francs (about $165) as a 14th dinner guest when a frantic hostess discovers that 13 people are showing up.
"It is not always funny, but at least you know that you will eat well," Glorieux said. "I always remain discreet at such a party because I know I have been invited only because they are superstitious. If no one asks me anything, I don't say anything."
Mystery writer Stephen King has said that he will not stop reading a book on Page 94 or 193, the numerals that add up to 13. He'll read one more page. And when he ascends his stairway, he leaps over steps 12 and 13 in one bound, so that he has taken 12 steps.
For such triskaidekaphobes, today is a very, very bad day. This is the second of three Friday the 13ths that will occur (at least we hope they'll all occur! quick, throw some salt) in 1987. It never happens more than three times in one year, and the triple whammy won't visit us again until 1998. So if being scared of Friday the 13th is part of your life style, you should panic now !
J. C. Agajanian Jr., vice president of Agajanian Enterprises and the "Voice of Ascot Raceway," is not going to panic. He was born on Friday, Feb. 13, 1948, and considers himself the luckiest man alive. Tonight he is going to take his wife out to dinner and celebrate.
"I've never spent a night in the hospital, other than my birth. And I was with my mom so it was OK," Agajanian said. "The only down thing I've had happen to me was investing in a skateboard park. There are not a lot of thriving skateboard parks.
"But I believe landing on Friday the 13th was a lucky stroke. People will walk around ladders and I'll go straight under them. People will walk around cracks in the sidewalk and I'll stomp on them."
Acquaintances are often spooked when they learn of Agajanian's birth date, "especially ladies, and I don't know why," he said. "They'll look at you, quiz you, raise their eyebrows, and say, 'Well, how is everything going? Did you trip coming to dinner?' "
Experts would say that Agajanian is just as superstitious as a triskaidekaphobe, because he considers the number 13 good luck--as do many other people born on the 13th. A superstitious person is one who believes that certain things (such as the number 13, black cats or broken mirrors) or certain rituals (avoiding sidewalk cracks, throwing salt over the shoulder) can bring good or bad luck. Gamblers, some of the most superstitious people of all, often consider the number 13 good luck as well. On Friday, Aug. 13, 1982, the New York state lottery had to halt sales of the number 813, depicting that day's date, because so many bets were placed on it that a jackpot would have exceeded the state's legal limit of liability.
Athletes, another notoriously superstitious group, have strong feelings about 13 too. Many of them don't like to wear it, play on it, fly on it or think about it. Others love it.
Former Los Angeles Laker Wilt Chamberlain, one of the greatest and largest (7-foot-2) basketball stars of all time, wore 13 with pride. But Brooklyn Dodgers pitcher Ralph Branca had the 12-plus-1 number on his back when he threw the pitch that New York Giant Bobby Thompson hit out of the park to win the 1951 National League championship playoff, a home run that came to be known as "The shot heard 'round the world."
'Something Odd About It'
Lucky or unlucky, what is it about 13 that has given it such a reputation?
"If you don't mind terrible puns, there's always been something odd about it," said Kenneth Hoffman, the former head of mathematics at Massachusetts Institute of Technology who now runs the Washington public affairs office for the Joint Policy Board for Mathematics. "The oddest thing I know about it is that the 13th of the month is more likely to occur on Friday than any other day of the week." This was shown to be true in a famous thesis, "To Prove That the 13th Day of the Month Is More Likely to Be a Friday Than Any Other Day of Week," written by S. R. Baxter at the age of 13.