Local leap year happenings in history

PHOTO: 1936 full-page newspaper advertisement for Wyckoff’s Department Store promoting the February 29th sales.

By Amy Leiser, Executive Director
Monroe County Historical Association

The year 2016 is a leap year, and tomorrow, February 29th, is leap day.

Why do we need a leap year? The Earth takes 365.2422 days to orbit the sun. If an extra day is added every four years, the calendar remains synchronous with the seasons. Without a leap day, the calendar would skew by five hours, 48 minutes, and 45 seconds each year. After 100 years, our calendar would be 25 days out of alignment with the year’s seasons.

The Egyptians were the first documented society who recognized a need for a leap year, but it was Julius Caesar, in 46 B.C., who adjusted the Egyptian calendar and added one full day to the calendar every four years.

Eventually becoming known as the Gregorian calendar, Caesar’s calendar year was still too long by just over 11 minutes, and by the late 1500s, the calendar was out of seasonal synchronicity by 10 full days. In 1582, Pope Gregory XIII re-examined the calendar and devised a solution to the predicament. He removed 10 days in October that year and asserted that leap year would not be observed in years that ended in 00. This still left an extra three days every 400 years, so Pope Gregory also created the rule that each “ought” year must also be divisible by 400.

What this means to us is that leap years must be divisible by four, but ought years are not leap years unless they are also divisible by 400. For example, the year 2000 was a leap year, but 1700, 1800, and 1900 were not. Also, 2100 will not be a leap year, but 2400 will be.

Having an event on leap day can be very special. Some people are born on this unique day. There is a 1-in-1461 chance of being born on leap day, and those folks who are, are known as “leaplings” or “leapers.”

In reviewing some of the historical records, many local “leap day” happenings occurred over the years. Charles Houser of East Stroudsburg was born February 29, 1824. His 80th birthday party was announced in the Jeffersonian Republican newspaper.

Some couples also chose to wed on leap day. On February 29, 1868, Mr. Daniel Lee of Spragueville and Miss Sally A. Bisbing of Cherry Lane were married by the Reverend T. Kirkpatrick. In 1880 at the East Stroudsburg parsonage, Mr. Wilber F.S. Griffeth of East Stroudsburg and Miss Alice Troch of Stroudsburg were wed. In 1896, in Columbia, New Jersey, Charles L. Walton and Miss Emma Lena Baker both of Stroudsburg were united in matrimony.

Sadly, people also pass away on leap day. On February 29, 1920, little 6-year-old Iam Possinger of Reeders died of diphtheria, and 49-year-old Stroudsburg resident John Whiteley, an expert bridge builder and employee of the New York, Susquehanna and Western Railroad Company, expired.

On February 29, 1904, a curious obituary for Mrs. James Bush appeared in the Daily Times newspaper. According to her death announcement, Mrs. Bush, a native of Germany, was destitute and had no kin. Her body was sent by the Stroud Township Overseer of the Poor to the State Anatomical Board in Philadelphia for dissection. The article continued that, “A prominent resident offered to start a fund of $2 for the old woman’s burial here but up to the hour of going to the press the remains were still awaiting shipment to Philadelphia.”

Eighty years ago, on February 29, 1936, some local residents got into trouble with the law. Edward E. Heller of Saylorsburg was arrested for driving under the influence of alcohol, and three Civilian Conservation Corps boys were arrested and charged for “being drunk and disorderly.” George Hay of Stroudsburg was detained and thrown in jail and fined $5 for disorderly conduct.

February 29th also brought big sales to boost the area’s economy during a particularly cold and snowy winter. A front page article of 1936 edition of The Record newspaper boasted, “February’s Twenty Ninth Will Bring Bargains To Monroe’s Multitude of Thrifty Buyers,” and advertisements for various businesses offing special deals were scattered throughout the edition. The front-page article encouraged shoppers to visit the various stores as “this community-wide sale is most opportune … for many throughout the local trading area have been practically snow-bound since the middle of January.” Shoppers were to “break the shackles of a tough winter and come out and bask in bargains!”

February 29th is also known as Sadie Hawkins Day. An old Irish tradition made popular by cartoonist Al Capp’s 1937 comic strip Li’l Abner, Sadie Hawkins Day is the only day that “allows” women to ask for a man’s hand in marriage. The day was originally in November, but over time was moved to leap day.

Leap day is certainly unique, whether it is personally or generally a special day. Whatever you choose to do on February 29th, this unusual day in our calendar is of historic interest.