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Friday 13th--Fight Or Flight

Margaret Downey wants you to limbo under a ladder, waltz with a person costumed in a black-cat outfit and break as many mirrors as you can.

And she says the more superstitious you are, the better - it is, after all, the last Friday the 13th of the millennium.

"Friday the 13th is complete bunk, it's nonsense," said Downey, organizer of the Anti-Superstition Carnival in Philadelphia.

This year the carnival is open to the public for the first time. The past two years, it was attended only by members of the Freethought Society of Greater Philadelphia.

To poke fun at the superstitions, organizers will hold limbo dances under a ladder, toss mirrors and play superstition trivia games - all in the name of helping those who fear Friday the 13th.

Similar events were planned in Los Angeles and Buffalo, N.Y., part of an effort organized by the Buffalo-based Center for Inquiry International to debunk superstitions associated with Friday the 13ths.

"It's kind of our bread-and-butter event," said the center's Chris Mooney. "We have this sort of residual fear of Friday the 13th, and it would be a good thing to try and clear this up a little bit."

The 13 members of the anti-superstition Friday the 13th club were to meet today, too.

"We'll meet, go under our ladders, open our umbrellas rain or shine, throw around some salt and knock on wood," said club member Murray Saltzman, 68

People are taking a different approach to Friday the 13th in Fredericksburg, Va. The Somerset Golf Club has taken a drastic step to mollify superstitious golfers. Hole No. 13 has been eliminated.

"Hopefully, that will do the job," head pro Don Kramer said, pointing to a paper 14 taped over the 13 on a sign near the tee. The succeeding holes have been renumbered so golfers now play through the 19th hole.

Kramer claims Somerset is the first course in the country to eliminate a 13th hole. Of course, many hotels have no 13th floor and some airlines skip the 13th row.

Some look to Norse mythology for the source of 13 phobia. According to the myth, an evil god crashed a party attended by 12 other Norse gods and killed one of them. Others say 13 became a bad omen because there were 13 diners at the Last Supper.

President Franklin Delano Roosevelt took the superstition so seriously, he would have his secretary sit down to make 14 when it appeared 13 people would be dining at the White House, said Thomas Fernsler, a professor at Mansfield University in Mansfield, Pa., and an expert on things 13.

But Friday the 13th doesn't faze the people who will be partying at Buffalo's Superstition Bash. They'll eat "misfortune cookies," run through a Superstition Obstacle Course and sign chain letters and throw them in the garbage.

"It's a fun way to spread a message about how the world works and how it doesn't work," said Mooney. "We're saying that nature is ruled by crtain laws that are unbreakable. And we want to demonstrate our confidence by doing things that would be taboo."

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