1998 is the 11th time this century that there have been three Friday the 13ths in a single year. (There can never be more than three.) If you make it through those days in February, March, and November unscathed, you can relax a bit: The next such ultra-unlucky year doesn't come around until 2009.Franklin Delano Roosevelt was superstitious, especially about the number 13. If he found himself at a luncheon with 13 people at the table, he invited his secretary in to bring the number to 14. "He may have been our most superstitious president," says Thomas Fernsler, an education professor at Mansfield University in Pennsylvania.Some people just have to be contrary: Every Friday the 13th, a band of aggressively unsuperstitious Philadelphia triskaidekaphiles commemorates their skepticism. Called the Philadelphia Friday the 13th Club, this group gets together to break mirrors, walk under ladders, spill salt, and open black umbrellas indoors. The club, which has always had exactly 13 members since it was established in 1936, meets somewhere new every year. "No one ever wants us back," says Murray "Murf" Saltzman, who has been a member for almost 30 years. Has anything bad ever happened to him on Friday the 13th? "Once I got a speeding ticket," Saltzman says. "But that wasn't bad luck. That was my own fault."On Friday, February 13th, 1959, Barbie debuted. Since then, Mattel has sold more than 800 million of the improbably busty, impossibly leggy playthings, blamed by some for warping the self-image of untold numbers of girls and women. And then, of course, there's Apollo 13. Launched on April 11th, 1970 at 13:13 CST, the rocket got into serious trouble when one of its fuel cells exploded. The mishap occurred on April 13th, though not on a Friday. Everybody got home safe in the end, but true believers in bad luck see a pattern all the same.
Fernsler, who gets perhaps a bit too absorbed in his favorite number, has come up with some more coincidences. "Take the date of the launch, 4-11-70, and add those numbers up. You get 13. And, not many people know this, but the rocket was launched from pad 39, which is, of course, 13 multiplied by three." Weird, man.Dan Marino, Miami quarterback and future Hall-of-Famer, wears #13. John Elway, Denver Broncos quarterback and future Hall-of-Famer, wears #7. Marino has never won a Super Bowl; Elway has. Just a little strange, wouldn't you say?Cuban leader Fidel Castro was born on Friday, August 13, 1926. "A lot of people associate him with evil," says Fernsler.