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February 29: A Day of Grace

February 25, 2008

In eastern North Carolina, west of the town of Wallace in Duplin County, on State Road 41 is Wells Chapel Baptist Church. In the cemetery is the grave of a woman who died at exactly forty years of age, although she had only ten birthdays.

Mattie C. Ramsey

Birth:   Feb. 29, 1880

Death:   Feb. 29, 1920

What are the odds? Someone figured it out. The probability is that one person out of every 2,134,521 people will be both born and die on Leap Year Day.

Anthony is a town in southwest Texas and southeast New Mexico. Also called Silver City, Anthony straddles the border between two states. The town is the site of the Worldwide Leap Year Festival. Silver City Sun-News reports that Mary Ann Brown, born February 29,1932, is the founder of the event. This year she will celebrate her nineteenth birthday since she only has a birthday every four years. It will also mark the eighth Leap Year Festival, an event that has grown, making Anthony the Leap Year Capital of the World.

Since the first impromptu fiesta in 1988, Brown has managed to attract thousands of 29ers or Leapers, as those born on February 29 call themselves. The festival now draws national media attention, celebrities, and thousands of Leap Year fans.

The biggest 29er bash to date was a millennium celebration. In 2000, famed artist Peter Max created a festival logo for the event. A concert featured Graham Nash of Crosby, Stills, and Nash.

This year, the Parade Marshal will be Josephine Concho Abeita, born February 29, 1908, four years before New Mexico became a state. After this year, Josephine, mother of nine and a Laguna Indian, will have celebrated her birthday only 25 times in 100 years.

The odds of any person being born on February 29 are 1460 to 1. Out of nearly 300 million citizens of the United States about 205,338 of our fellow Americans will celebrate a birthday on Friday.

In 1856, twin brothers were born on February 29; Sedley Brown, playwright and director, and J. Edwin Brown, an actor.

In 1960, Heidi Henriksen was born on Leap Day. Four years later, February 29,1964, Heidi’s brother Olav Henriksen was born. And four years later, in 1968, their brother Leif-Martin Henriksen came into the world, the third of three siblings born on consecutive Leap Days.

February 29,1904, Adolph Blaine Charles David Earl Frederick Gerald Hubert Irvin John Kenneth Lloyd Martin Nero Oliver Paul Quincy Randolph Sherman Thomas Uncas Victor William Xerxes Yancy Zeus Wolfeschlegelsteinhausenberdorft was born in Germany. He has the longest name on record, a name for every letter of the alphabet. He shortened it to Mr. Wolfe Plus 585 Sr. That must mean there was a junior.

The list of notable people born on Leap Day is long. A few of the more recognizable are:

1468 Pope Paul III – Renaissance Pope

1692 John Byron – English poet

1736 Ann Lee – Founder of the Shaker movement

1792 Gioacchino Rossini – Italian composer

1864 Alice Davenport – American silent screen actress

1904 John “Pepper” Martin – Baseball player

1904 Jimmy Dorsey – Saxophonist, conductor, composer.

1908 Balthus (Balthasar Klossowski) – French-Polish painter

1908 Masahiro Makino – Japan – Film director

1908 Dee A. Brown II – Novelist,historian. Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee

1912 Mary McAdoo – American actress

1916 Leonard S. Shoen – Founder of U-Haul

1916 Dinah Shore – Actress, Singer, Talk Show Host

1924 Al Rosen – Baseball player.

1928 Tempest Storm (Annie Blanche Banks) – American actress

1936 Jack Lousma – Astronaut

1940 Billy Turner – Thoroughbred horse trainer

1944 John Niland – Football player

1952 Randy Jackson – Rock musician

1968 Chucky Brown – Basketball player

1984 Cam Ward – Canadian hockey player

In the Gregorian calendar most years that are divisible by four are Leap Years. In a Leap Year, the month of February has 29 days instead of 28. Adding an extra day to the calendar every four years compensates for the fact that a solar year is almost six hours longer than 365 days.

When the rules of courtship were more rigid, women were allowed to propose marriage only one day every four years, February 29th. This tradition is believed to have started in fifth century Ireland when St. Bridget complained to St. Patrick that women had to wait too long for a man to pop the question. According to legend, St. Patrick decreed that yearning females could suggest an engagement on the last day of February during a Leap Year.

Scotland passed a law to that effect in 1288, allowing women to offer marriage to the man of their choice in a Leap Year. The law provided that any man who declined a proposal in a Leap Year must pay a fine. The fine could range from payment as a kiss all the way to a silk dress or a pair of gloves.

In the United States, the date came to be known as Sadie Hawkins Day. Sadie Hawkins was a character in Al Capp’s cartoon strip “Li’l Abner.” It was the day that women could pursue men.

Like every other day, February 29 is, as the Psalm puts it, “a day that the Lord has made. Let us rejoice and be glad in it.”

I can use an extra day every now and then.

I prefer to think of it February 29 a gift, a day of grace.

-Kirk H. Neely

© H-J Weekly, February 2008

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