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Leap Day – February 29

February 27, 2012

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

                                                                                    Mattie C. Ramsey
                                                                                    Birth:   Feb. 29, 1880
                                                                                    Death:   Feb. 29, 1920


What are the odds? Someone figured out that the probability of a person’s birth and death occurring on Leap Year Day is one in 2,134,521 people.

In the Gregorian calendar most years that are divisible by four are Leap Years. The month of February has twenty-nine days instead of twenty-eight. 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.

Anthony is a town that straddles the border between two states; southwest Texas and southeast New Mexico. Also called Silver City, the town is the site of the Worldwide Leap Year Festival, an event that has grown in popularity.  This year marks the ninth year of the festival, making Anthony the Leap Year Capital of the World.

Since the first celebration in 1988, the event has attracted 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.

Four years ago, the Parade Marshal was Josephine Concho Abeita, born February 29, 1908, four years before New Mexico became a state. At the time, this Laguna Indian and mother of nine had celebrated her birthday only twenty-five times in 100 years.

In 1960, Heidi Henriksen was born on Leap Day. Four years later to the day, Heidi’s brother Olav was born. Exactly four years later on February 29, 1968, their brother Leif-Martin came into the world.  All three siblings were born on consecutive Leap Days.

On 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. Having the longest name on record – beginning with every letter of the alphabet – he shortened it to Mr. Wolfe Plus 585, Senior.

Was there a Junior?

A few of the more prominent people born on Leap Day include

  • 1468    Pope Paul III – Renaissance Pope
  • 1692    John Byron – English poet
  • 1736    Ann Lee – Founder of the Shaker movement
  • 1792    Gioachino 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 – Japanese film director
  • 1908    Dee A. Brown II – author of 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

Centuries ago, when the rules of courtship were more rigid, women were allowed to propose marriage only one day every four years on February 29. 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 females longing to be married 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 must pay a fine, which ranged from offering the woman a kiss all the way to offering her a silk dress or a pair of gloves.

A few towns and colleges throughout the United States still celebrate the folk-event known as Sadie Hawkins Day on February 29.  Named for a character in Al Capp’s cartoon strip “Li’l Abner” – a female desperate for a husband – this day gives women the opportunity to pursue men, usually by inviting them on a date.

I don’t know about you, but I prefer to think of February 29 as a gift, a day of grace. I can use an extra day of grace every now and then.

Kirk H. Neely
© February 2012

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