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Friday, the 13th -- not the ominous day it once was

Today is Friday the 13th, traditionally a day to avoid black cats, ladders and broken mirrors.

But in the year 2007, does anyone care?

Once, people feared bad luck when the 13th day of the month fell on a Friday. Now, for most people, Friday the 13th is no more remarkable than Friday the 8th or Friday the 21st. Some probably don't even notice when the formerly chilling day-date combination dawns.

"I don't find a whole lot of people are really worried about it anymore," said Thomas Fernsler, an associate policy scientist at the University of Delaware who knows enough about the number 13 to earn the unofficial title "Dr. 13."

"I like to call it a historical superstition."

The day was once imbued with great significance. Stories about how it arose range from the arrests and killings of the Knights Templar on a Friday the 13th in the 1300s to the hangings routinely carried out on Fridays and Jesus' status as the 13th guest at the last supper.

But now, few will admit to harboring qualms about Friday the 13th. Amy Koban, owner and reader at Amy's Mystick Boutique in Lewiston, said she encounters plenty of people who are inclined to be superstitious -- and even they brush off the inauspicious date.

"People just say, ooh, Friday the 13th, and then just kind of laugh it off," she said.

The occurrence of Friday the 13th one to three times a year, depending on that year's calendar setup, might be expected to cause problems for businesses that depend on customers' perceptions of luck. But Greg Medulun, spokesman for the Niagara Fallsview Casino and Resort in Niagara Falls, Ont., said attendance numbers stay fairly flat at the casino year-round.

C. Douglas Hartmayer, director of communications for the Niagara Frontier Transportation Authority, said he expects traffic at the airport to be business as usual today.

"I don't think that our travel numbers are any less on a Friday when the date is the 13th than they are when it's a 12th or an 11th, but that's just my observation," he said.

For some connoisseurs of luck, Friday the 13th could actually be the day to risk it all. John Charlson, director of communications for the New York Lottery, said numbers inspired by special dates sometimes reach a cap, after which sales of that number must be cut off.

"Every player is different," Charlson said. "Some players play their birthdays, some players play their lucky numbers" -- and some play date combinations like 713 for this week's Friday the 13th.

Perhaps there are a few closet triskaidekaphobes (people who fear the number 13) left. At the Niagara Fallsview Casino, skittish visitors won't find a button for floor 13.

Nor will any guest be assigned a room number with the number four in it, Medulun said. The hotel lacks floors four, 14, 24 and 34 because in the Chinese culture, four is an unlucky number.

It's all about helping guests enjoy their time at the resort, whether they notice lucky colors, symbols and numbers or not, Medulun said.

"I think the issue of luck and superstition in our business comes down to the same core principle of any hospitality industry, and that's about comfort," Medulun said.

Those who would find significance in the day or number could draw on plenty of anecdotal evidence. Such ominous (or heroic, if you prefer) figures as Butch Cassidy and Fidel Castro were born on Friday the 13th. The ill-fated Apollo 13 mission's accident occurred on April 13, though it wasn't a Friday.

Locally, the surprise snowstorm of 2006 began on Oct. 12, but snow continued falling on the next day, Friday the 13th. It's a safe bet that those who awoke to find themselves without power and with flooded basements or downed trees felt pretty unlucky that day.

The sports world offers some support, too. In 1959, pitcher Harvey Haddix pitched 12 perfect innings against the Braves. But his team lost 1-0 -- in the 13th inning.

"It was the greatest game ever pitched by a man because he went 12 perfect innings, but then the number 13 comes into play," Fernsler said.

If you secretly think Friday the 13th is out to get you, a mathematical paper published in 1969 could confirm your suspicions. S.R. Baxter's study of the previous 400 years concluded that -- though the difference is slight -- the 13th day of the month is more likely to fall on a Friday than on any other day, Fernsler said.

The best part?

S.R. Baxter was 13 years old at the time of the paper's publication.

e-mail: swaldrop@buffnews.com

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