Thanks to the multi-million-dollar renovation of the Tremont Park Hotel, the staid, traditional, aesthetic is long gone. Now there are 58 modern, well-appointed suites with down comforters, fully equipped kitchenettes, and wireless Internet access. But one old custom stayed behind. At the front desk, there is no mention of the 13th floor. Instead, it's known as the "penthouse level."
"The 13th floor superstition was a big deal 20 years ago," says Michael Haynie, Tremont's vice president and managing director and 28-year veteran of the hospitality industry. So why the fancy name change now? Haynie says, "I don't know if the developers purposefully called the 13th floor the penthouse level. It might have been a coincidence."
The higher-ups at William C. Smith & Co., the D.C.-based real estate firm handling the Tremont makeover, wouldn't comment on the subject, but it appears the 13th floor superstition is alive and well in Baltimore. Visit most any hotel, new or old, and the elevator buttons conspicuously jump from 12 to 14.
"We will not have a 13th floor," says Linda Norman, general manager of the much-anticipated Hilton Baltimore Convention Center Hotel, the $300-million, 757-guestroom property slated for completion in August. "The superstition has a lot of history, and we're inheriting it."
History is key to understanding triskaidekaphobia: 13 has been unlucky since time immemorial. Judas Iscariot was the 13th diner at the Last Supper. In Norse mythology, Lodi, the god of evil and turmoil, was the 13th to arrive at the famed feast of Valhalla. The ancient Egyptians believed there were twelve steps on the ladder to eternal life; to take the thirteenth step meant death. Recent decades have brought the failed Apollo 13 mission and 11 macabre installments of the Friday the 13th movie franchise.
"Fear of the number 13 is common but certainly not widespread," says Dr. Mahmood Jahromi, child and adult psychiatrist with St. Joseph Medical Center.
The research supports his claim: A recent USA Today/Gallup poll reported that 13 percent (eerie!) of Americans would be uncomfortable with a 13th floor room assignment. In general, phobias of this nature "fall under the umbrella of anxiety, which many people suffer from," Dr. Jahromi explains.
The hospitality industry happily indulges the superstitious among us to avoid any financial losses. And according to the Stress Management Center and Phobia Institute in Asheville, North Carolina, an estimated $750 million is lost every Friday the 13th due to people avoiding travel, business, wedding plans, and other activities.
"We are products of cultural influence," explains Dr. Jahromi. "A phobia like this is so deeply rooted in our culture, it's hard to erase."