Today, Friday the 13th, is a day of fear for those who are superstitious and it's a day of devilish fun for those who are not.

It's also a fitting day to explain why the real estate industry has institutionalized "triskaidekaphobia" -- the superstitious fear of the number 13.

Based on records of buildings with Otis brand elevators, as many as 85 percent of the high rises in the world don't have a 13th floor, says Dilip Rangnekar, spokesman for the Farmington, CT-based elevator maker.

"It's such a rarity to find a 13th floor in a building it sort of sticks out," says Rangnekar.

To be accurate, if a building is tall enough to have a 13th floor, it does indeed have a 13th floor. Developers and architects make it "disappear" by designating it as the 14th floor. That means the real 14th floor becomes the 15th floor, the 15th floor becomes the 16th floor, and so on.

Developers say making the 13th floor vanish is bottom line motivated, but superstitious fear is the real culprit.

Commercial realty brokers admit it's difficult to lease the 13th floor because, even if every corporate employee is not superstitious, clients may be. Who wants the hassle of directing a superstitious client to Suite 1300 -- or to the lobby if the client refuses to ride the creaky elevator up 13 floors?

Developers, architects and others who banish the 13th floor to the ether are, however, creating a safety issue according to fire, rescue and other emergency officials.

Someone on a burning building's designated 14th floor (actually the 13th floor) who calls firefighters for a rescue from the 14th floor, could find the rescue attempt directed at the real 14th floor (designated as the 15th floor), one flight up.

Pretending there is no 13th floor, in that case, could be very unlucky.

"Fire officials have been asking building developers and architects who are installing a 13th floor to call it the 13th floor because when there is a fire they are on the outside counting the floors they need to hit," said Rangnekar.

What's in a number?

Still, most building developers ignore the safety issue, indicating just how deeply rooted the 13th floor policy has become.

The policy based on the fear of the number 13 has roots that go back to Norse mythology and strangely enough, a certain home, according to "The Encyclopedia of Superstitions," a treatise by Edwin and Mona A. Radford, originally published by New York's Philosophical Library in 1949 and edited for republication by Christina Hole for Barnes & Noble in 1996.

According to the encyclopedia, 12 gods were once summoned to a banquet at Valhalla, the favorite home of top god Odin. Loki, the god of evil and turmoil, crashed the bash, making it a party of 13. As the legend goes, Loki impaled Balder with a spear of mistletoe. Balder, a favored god, died trying to evict the uninvited Loki.

Why people kiss beneath such deadly foliage during a holy holiday period is another story.

"The 13 superstition exists all through Europe. It is impossible in any French city or town to find a house numbered 13. Nor to find room 13 in any French hotel. And not many British hotels will have that number marked on a door," the Radfords wrote.

"Houses numbered 13 are often hard to sell, and some town councils have been forced to take notice of this tradition and omit thirteens from their three-numerals," the Radfords go on.

Thirteen, as an unlucky number, actually predates Viking lore.

Christianity's Last Supper helped entrench the fear of 13, according to "Man, Myth and Magic: The Illustrated Encyclopedia of Mythology, Religion and the Unknown" last published in 1983 by Richard Cavendish and the Marshall Cavendish Corp. in New York City.

The disastrous dinner for 13, 12 apostles plus Jesus Christ, included Judas Iscariot -- the 13th apostle to arrive and the first to leave. Iscariot ultimately betrayed Christ and gave rise to the pox on dinners of 13. Biblical interpretations vary, but some say the next day, a Friday, Christ was crucified, according to the illustrated encyclopedia.

In modern times, Sony Pictures gave the fear a cyber twist in the aptly titled sci-fi thriller "The Thirteenth Floor," a story about a high-rise's 13th floor portal to a computer-simulated universe where the digital denizens believe they are real.

For them, the 13th floor was virtual bad luck.

The view of the 13th floor was cast in a different light during America's worst disaster.

Both towers of the World Trade Center had occupied 13th floors and, ironically, after hijacked planes slammed into the twin towers just over a year ago, media accounts of harrowing escapes told of many rescues from the 13th floor of both the North (1 World Trade Center) and South (2 World Trade Center) towers.

For those survivors, luck began on the 13th floor.

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