February 29, 1584 -
Due to the Gregorian Calendar adjustment of two years earlier, much of Europe's population lived through its first Leap Day on this date.
But let's take a step back - Roman Emperor Julius Caesar took a break from being the dictator of the known world and took a stab at fixing the calendar when dates were no longer in sync with the seasons. First, he created one extra-long year – 445 days – to get things back on track (heavy drinking, animal sacrifices and non-stop orgies were involved.) He followed that with a pattern of three 365-day years and one 366-day year – leap year.
Fifteen centuries later, though, the calendar was off-kilter again. It turns out that Caesar’s plan created three extra leap years every 400 years. So in 1582, Pope Gregory XIII came up with a way to fix the problem. That year, the calendar jumped from October 4 to October 15. Gregory also set up a new rule to get rid of those three extra leap years. Under the Gregorian calendar, only century years divisible by 400 are leap years. With the introduction.of LEAP SECOND adjustments on the final day of some years, calendar accuracy has become an almost-exact science.
Leap Year has been the traditional time that women can propose marriage. In many of today's cultures, it is okay for a woman to propose marriage to a man. Society doesn't look down on such women. It is believed this tradition was started in 5th century Ireland when St. Bridget complained to St. Patrick about women having to wait for so long for a man to propose. A law once existed in Scotland forbidding a man to refuse a proposal made to him on February 29th. Punishment for such an offense was a large fine. And yet, there is a Greek superstition that claims couples have bad luck if they marry during a leap year. Apparently one in five engaged couples in Greece will avoid planning their wedding during a leap year.
A person who was born on February 29 may be called a "leapling". In non-leap years they may celebrate their birthday on February 28th or March 1st.
For legal purposes, their legal birthdays depend on how different laws count time intervals. In England and Wales the legal birthday of a leapling is February 28th in common years (see Leap Years, above). In Taiwan the legal birthday of a leapling is also February 28 in common years. In both cases, a person born on February 29, 1980 would have legally reached 18 years old on February 28, 1998.
There are many instances in children's literature where a person's claim to be only a quarter of their actual age turns out to be based on counting their leap-year birthdays.
A similar device is used in the plot of the Gilbert and Sullivan operetta The Pirates of Penzance. Frederic, born on February 29, was apprenticed to a band of pirates until his 21st birthday, which would not arrive until he was 88 years old.
Some famous leaplings are:
- William "Wild Bill" A. Wellman, American film director, (Wings, The Public Enemy and Nothing Sacred) (1896)
- Jimmy Dorsey, American bandleader (1904)
- Balthus, French-Polish painter of young girls in an erotic context (1908)
- Dinah Shore, American singer and long-time supporter of women's professional golf. (1916)
- Alex Rocco, American actor (Moe Green) (1936)
- Superman (Clark Kent), the Man of Steel.
Today in History -
February 29, 1504 -
Christopher Columbus, stranded in Jamaica during his fourth voyage to the West, used a correctly predicted lunar eclipse to frighten hostile natives into providing food for his crew.
Things didn't go well for the native population after that.
February 29, 1692 -
The witch mania in Salem, Massachusetts,began on this date when Sarah Goode and Tituba, an Indian servant to a local preacher, were arrested and charged with witchcraft on this date.
Things didn't go well for them.
February 29, 1904 -
President Theodore Roosevelt appointed the Isthmian Canal Commission to detail requirements for construction of a canal across the Isthmus of Panama.
In 1905, the seven-man commission decided on a canal with locks, not a sea-level waterway. Completed in the 1914, its final cost was $336-million.
February 29, 1940 -
Gone with the Wind won eight Academy Awards, including best picture of 1939, on this date.
Victor Fleming was named best director, Vivien Leigh best actress and Hattie McDaniel best supporting actress, the first black performer to receive an Oscar.
February 29, 1968 -
At the Grammy Awards on this date, the Fifth Dimension's Up, Up and Away won record of the year for 1967,
while album of the year honors went to the Beatles for Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band.
And so it goes