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Things that happen on Friday the 13th not always bad, says UD’s Dr. 13.

2:05 p.m., Oct. 9, 2006--In this spooky month famous for ghosts and hobgoblins, this October's second Friday may evoke even more fear in the hearts of those prone to worries and superstitions. It will be, after all, Friday, Oct. 13.

The fear of Friday the 13th is called paraskavedekatriaphobia, a specialized form of triskaidekaphobia, which is a fear of the number 13. While web sites and infomercials abound providing information on how to overcome this fear, Thomas J. Fernsler, associate policy scientist in UD's Mathematics and Science Education Resource Center, also known as Dr. 13, said the things that happen on Fridays the 13th are not always bad.

“Emmy Noether, my favorite mathematician, received her doctorate on Friday, Dec. 13, 1907. That was very unusual and a very big deal for a woman at the time. She went on to teach at Bryn Mawr College until she died,” Fernsler said.

And then there are things that Fernsler said could or did change the course of history. During the Revolutionary War, for example, George Washington's second in command, Gen. Charles Lee, was in the process of lobbying congress to turn the Continental Army over to him. Whether or not that was going to happen we will never know. Lee was captured by the British on Friday, Sept. 13, 1776.

Neil Armstrong, one of Fernsler's heroes from youth and destined to be America's first man on the moon, became an astronaut on Friday, Sept. 13, 1962, when he was chosen for the crew of Mercury 7.

Elvis Presley's family moved to Memphis when he was 13. “That is either a good thing or a bad thing, depending on how you feel about Elvis,” Fernsler said. The same can be said for Fidel Castro, who was born on Friday, Aug. 13, 1926, and outlaw Butch Cassidy, born on Friday, April 13, 1866.

On the other hand, some of the things that have happened on Fridays the 13th are decidedly unlucky. For example, Fernsler noted, the first person to die as a result of an automobile accident was Henry Hall Bliss, who was hit by a cab as he stepped off a trolley in New York City on Friday, Sept. 13, 1899. A real estate broker, Bliss had turned to help a female passenger descend the steps. A doctor who was riding in the cab tried in vain to save him.

A math whiz always fascinated by numbers, Fernsler said he was the kid who always thought it was neat when elementary school teachers gave out 50 math problems to solve by hand. His fascination with Friday the 13th began in 1987 when he noticed there were three Fridays the 13th that year. That phenomenon can only occur in a non-leap year when there is a Friday, Feb. 13. That's because February and March have the same date patterns, as do March and November. There won't be three Fridays the 13th again until 2009.

Fernsler, who was married in 1996, said he would have been happy to have been married on a Friday the 13th but the calendar didn't cooperate. He and his wife-to-be settled on a wedding date of Saturday, Oct. 12, but the invitation requested an r.s.v.p. by Friday, Sept. 13.

As Dr. 13 Fernsler is a sought-after speaker at educational conferences and is also a media favorite. He will speak before the National Council of Teachers of Mathematics regional conference being held in Atlantic City, Oct. 19-21.

Article by Beth Thomas

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