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Friday the Thirteenth: Legend or fact?

Crossing a black cat, strolling under a ladder or even shattering a mirror, does not come close to surpassing the infamy of the legend of Friday the Thirteenth. The accursed day of a Friday falling on the thirteenth of the month, still sends a chill down the most unbelieving of spines.

“If you have this belief of Friday the 13th, then it has power over you… if you’re afraid of it,” said Veronica Smith, a TJC adjunct faculty member and public relations photographer, who also teaches graphic design.

Smith has made a life of searching for the paranormal, but more importantly, the unexplained. She is an avid “ghost hunter.”

“What you do when you ghost hunt is, you get hard evidence of something that you can’t see,” said Smith. “I have seen and heard and had personal experiences that I can’t explain, and that I know defy the physical laws of this earth.”

Over the years, the legend of the number 13 has been linked back to several different beginnings including versions of Norse mythology, association with stock market crashes and even as far as the 14 century’s Canterbury Tales.

“As far as it goes, (Friday the Thirteenth) I personally think it’s like any other day, any other number. Bad things happen on Monday the first, or Wednesday the fifth, or whenever,” Smith said. “It’s just a cultural belief. It’s come down through the centuries of traditions and superstitions and folklores all mixed together.”

The fear of Friday the Thirteenth is quite possibly the most widespread superstition in today’s modern age. Not only popular in the United States, but many other countries such as the Netherlands, Scandinavia, Greece, France and England, recognize the significance of the unlucky number 13.

“Usually a number will follow you around if the spirit world is trying to get a message through to you, but I’m not noticing anything profound when I see this number,” Smith said.

The apparent historical aspect of Friday the Thirteenth has interested and inspired history enthusiasts all over the world. The most well-known and popular connection comes from the story of the famed Knights Templar.

During the Holy Crusades in Jerusalem, a military group was established to protect Christians. After becoming too wealthy and powerful for the King’s taste, their arrest was ordered and so came the brutal decimation of the Knights Templar. They were executed on Friday, October 13, 1307 Friday the Thirteenth. The day was forever cursed.

TJC Professor of History and Government, Geoffrey Willbanks, has researched European-medieval history and continues to hold interest in the topic today.

“If you went to some little tribe in the Amazon that had never been exposed to the concept of Friday the thirteenth, but they got all excited on Friday the Thirteenth, then maybe there is something to it…,” said Willbanks.

Willbanks, also the department chair of Social Sciences, points out that people have many different superstitions that we don’t typically think of, including baseball players not touching foul lines or students wearing a lucky piece of clothing on the day of a big test.

“All of these things had some rational basis to begin with, and over time, we’ve lost connection with that,” said Willbanks. “It accounts, sometimes, for the inexplicable… and we want to explain things, it’s a drive we have.”

The social impact that Friday the Thirteenth has had on our culture is evident in the many television shows, literature, memorabilia and merchandise, and media coverage, such as documentaries that have evolved over time.

According to 411mania.com, “When comparing Friday the13th to the other top-grossing American horror franchises- such as A Nightmare on Elm Street, Child’s Play, or Halloween- and adjusting for the 2009 inflation, Friday the 13th is the highest grossing horror franchise in the United States, with approximately $614 million.”

In February 2009, the remake of the 1980 Friday the 13th film was released to theaters. Its worldwide revenue totaled over $90 million. Warner Brothers Pictures plans to release its new sequel on Friday, August 13, 2010.

“Like everybody else, as a part of the culture, I note that we’re having a Friday the Thirteenth, but I haven’t found that it made one difference or not. But… we’ll see, maybe this Friday the Thirteenth will be the one…,” said Willbanks.

So whether the number 13 is really an unlucky number or Friday is actually an unlucky day, the combination of the two still leaves many wondering.

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