They come around every four years, and they seem to bring out the wacky side in some people. Presidential elections? No, leap years. As you mark Feb. 29, 2012, enjoy these memorable leap year stories, culled from the archives of The Washington Post.
In 1908 a 16-year-old boy lamented to The Post that he had never had a birthday. “You see, I was born on the 29th of February, 1892, a leap year,” he explained. In 1896, his father, a State Department official, was ordered to go to Japan on an important diplomatic mission. The family left from San Francisco and steamed across the Pacific. While the boy slept on the night of Feb. 28, the ship crossed the 180th meridian — the International Date Line. “Next day I should have celebrated my birthday,” the youngster said, “but at breakfast the captain announced that it was the first day of March.” Years not divisible by 400 are not leap years, so 1900 was without a Feb. 29. In 1904 his father was posted to St. Petersburg, Russia, which had not yet switched to the Gregorian calendar. In 1908, the family was back in Washington and the boy was eagerly awaiting his first birthday.
In 1920 Col. William A. Kroll, marriage license clerk for the District of Columbia, reported receiving a letter from a disabled veteran eager to marry any widow willing to wed him on Leap Day, the day traditionally associated with women proposing to men. According to The Post: “He enclosed a list of names of disabled comrades, which he urged Col. Kroll ‘to keep on file in case any more lonely widows write.’ ”
In 1928 The Post catalogued the bachelors who would be the best catches for any “daring maiden” brave enough to pop the question that leap year. At the top of the list: aviation pioneer Col. Charles A. Lindbergh. “When did heaven ever make a more complete hero?” gushed The Post. “Handsome, daring in heart, modest in nature, amazingly winning in personality, unruffled, a dreamer, a doer, sincere and unspoiled in the face of adulation such as a man of his generation has never known…. But, the hero side of young Col. Lindbergh so overweighs the human side that it is doubtful if the leap-girl has the courage to do anything but dream that some day she may have the good fortune to implant the faintest of kisses on his blushing cheek.”
In 1940 the top executives at local D.C. department store the Hecht Co. — all men — celebrated Leap Day in an unusual manner: They swapped jobs with their female assistants. Wrote The Post: “Perhaps the male executives of this store are conscious of the talents of the 50-odd female executives in responsible positions, for they will today — Leap Year Day only — turn over the inner workings of their store to the women themselves.” On March 1, it was back to business as usual.
In 1948 The Post again decided to rank suitable mates for women in the market for a husband. “Today’s the day, girls!” wrote the paper. “Go out and get your man or else be content to hold your hats for another four years.” Topping the list of desirable bachelors was “tall, skinny war hero and movie star” Jimmy Stewart. His closest contender was “plane builder” Howard Hughes. Others on the list included “good-looking Jack Kennedy,” then serving his first term in Congress, and “poker-face J. Edgar Hoover,” the perpetually single FBI director. Playwright Tennessee Williams made the cut, too, though it’s doubtful he would have said yes.
In 1960 The Post asked a group of “attractive” D.C. bachelors what it would take to “snare them.” Robert Keith Gray, 38, a member of President Dwight Eisenhower’s cabinet, said he wanted a woman a bit younger than he. “I’d prefer her attractive,” he said, and she must be a Republican — and one willing to stand up and be counted. Then there’d be no chance of a political squabble at home.”
In 1968 singer Lesley Gore told an Associated Press reporter that when it came to the Sadie Hawkins aspect of leap year, she didn’t anticipate asking any man to marry her, preferring to be the pursued, not the pursuer. “Though she hopes to be married eventually she is suspicious of the so-called holy deadlock,” wrote the reporter. Said Gore: “I see so much of marriage breakups and unhappiness, I have a fear of it.” In 2005 Gore announced she was a lesbian, with a partner of 24 years.
In 1980 The Post offered expert advice to women who might be reluctant to ask a man out on a Leap Day-inspired date. “Ask a man to a function that may aid his career,” suggested marketing consultant Rozanne Weissman. “This is such a workaholic, goal-oriented town, that asking a man to a congressional reception or to meet some lawyers you know may be a sure way to get his attention.”