By late summer of 1752, the English calendar was seriously out of date.

For centuries England had refused to acknowledge a simple solar fact: a year is actually longer than 365 days. Almost six hours longer. The earth takes 365.242 days (give or take) to complete a trip around the sun. Those extra hours added up over time and royally messed up the calendar.

Ancient Egyptians had realized this annual discrepancy thousands of years earlier and had developed calendars to deal with it. By the first century B.C., astronomers of Roman emperor Julius Caesar created the Julian calendar, which added an extra day every four years to account for the difference.

The calendar was further revised under Pope Gregory XIII in 1582. The Gregorian calendar kept the extra day every four years, except in years that ended in 00 — unless those years were divisible by the number 400. For example, the year 1900 would not have an extra day, but the year 2000 would have (because 2000 is divisible by 400).

It sounds complicated, but the Gregorian calendar was a simple improvement over the Julian, and most of the world adopted it.

Most of the world, that is, except Protestant England, which did not desire to follow the astronomical advice of the Catholic pope. However, this resistance meant that that the English were not accounting for those extra six hours every year. By September 1752 the English calendar was off by 11 days.

Parliament finally accepted the Gregorian calendar and ordered the country to get with the times. To correct its calendar discrepancy, England and its colonies, including America, had to completely skip the dates Sept. 3 through 13. It’s as if those 11 days never happened.

Some people resisted the change and a few politicians made the calendar an election issue. Workers worried that they would lose nearly two weeks of pay due to the change. Generally, though, natives and colonists accepted the new calendar.

That’s when Leap Year came to America.

Weird, funny and strange Leap Year news stories

Maybe it’s in repentance for obligatorily skipping those 10 days or just because the Earth’s “year” is a little wacky, but funny and strange things tend to happen on Leap Years. Here are some weird news from Leap Years past.

2012

In Northfleet, Kent, England, Roy Day was the subject of complaint by his neighbors because he owned 20 homing pigeons. The city council notified Day that the pigeons were not only loud and smelly but that they were a health problem and that he needed to get rid of them. The only obstacle being that these pigeons are homing pigeons, which leads one to ask: how do you re-home homing pigeons?

The Scottish village of Glenelg, which is located on the western coast of the country, picked a sister city that wasn’t located in another country or even on the planet Earth. Instead, the community adopted Glenelg, a NASA-named location on Mars as their somewhat extraterrestrial link.

Tokyo’s zoo, Inokashira Park, had 30 squirrels escape after a typhoon wrecked their enclosure. Yet, 38 squirrels were recaptured and re-inhabited to the zoo. Zoo officials reported that they could have miscounted how many squirrels escaped, that the squirrels could have reproduced while on the loose or that some wild squirrels were picked up by mistake. It seems the former is more likely, though; as all the squirrels were microchipped.

Russian children in the Rostov region brought an exciting object to show and tell at school: a five-month-old lion cub. The cub, named Barsik, escaped from a car while he was being transported to a zoo in Dagestan.

2008

Oxford compiled a list of the most irritating phrases. The list, which was compiled for a book called “Damp Squid,” cited “at the end of the day,” “fairly unique” and “I personally” as some of the most loathsome phrases in the English language.

Broderick Lloyd Laswell, an accused killer from Arkansas, sued the county, claiming that it was starving him to death during his eight months behind bars awaiting trial. Laswell dropped from 413 pounds to 308 and cited that the lack of physical activity should have made him gain weight not lose it, and therefore he was being starved to death. The suit was later dropped.

Historical leap days

Some pretty notable things happened on past Leap Days. Here are just some of them:

1504 — Christopher Columbus used his knowledge of a coming lunar eclipse to trick native chiefs into thinking that God would punish them for not gifting him with provisions. When the moon turned red and then back to normal, the chiefs panicked and gave Columbus what he asked for.

1692 — The first warrants were issued in the Salem Witch Trials in Massachusetts.

1864 — The Kilpatrick-Dahlgren raid failed, a military move that would have freed 15,000 Union Soldiers.

1892 — St. Petersburg, Florida is incorporated into the United States.

1940 — Hattie McDaniel becomes the first African American to win an Academy Award for her role as Mammy in “Gone with the Wind.”

1944 — Admiralty Island is invaded in Operation Brewer led by Gen. Douglas MacArthur.

1960 — An earthquake in Morocco kills more than 3,000 people and nearly destroys Agadir.

Leap Year facts and legends

  • According to the tradition of the “Leap Year proposal,” women are expected to propose marriage to their beaus.

Two historical ladies are credited with the the tradition’s origin. Some say that St. Bridget complained to St. Patrick that women had to wait too long for their suitors to propose to them. So, in the fifth century, St. Patrick designated Feb. 29 as the time in which gender roles would be reversed.

However, another legend credits Queen Margaret of Scotland with creating a law that fined men for turning down a woman’s proposal. Skeptics point out that at the time of the law’s creation, Margaret was 5 years old and living in Norway. The tradition didn’t become commonplace until the 19th century.

  • In Greece, it is bad luck to get married in a Leap Year.
  • People born on Feb. 29 are called “leaplings” or “leapers.” Some famous leapers are English poet John Byrom, singer Dinah Shore, motivational speaker Tony Robbins and the rapper Ja Rule.
  • Anthony, Texas has named itself the “Leap Year Capital of the World.” In February 1988, neighbors Mary Ann Brown and Birdie Lewis, both leaplings, approached the town’s Chamber of Commerce and proposed a festival for all of those born on Leap Day. The town has held the celebration ever since.
  • There is no official food dish assigned to celebrate Leap Day, but some eat frog’s legs in commemoration.
  • Feb. 29 is also Rare Disease Day.
  • Astrologers believe those leaplings born on Leap Day have unusual talents, like being able to burp the alphabet or paint like Picasso.
  • Before Julius Caesar proposed the Leap Year, people observed a 355-day calendar with an extra 22-day month every two years.
  • Sosigenes was the Greek astronomer who conceived the Leap Day solution for the Julian calendar.
  • February is a short month because Roman Emperor Caesar Augustus’ ego got in the way. When Julius Caesar was in power, February had 30 days, but Augustus was unhappy that his month, August, only had 29 days, whereas the month named for Julius Caesar, July, had 31. So Augustus took from February to boost August.
  • The modern Iranian calendar is a solar calendar with a unique Leap Year in which eight days are inserted every 33 years.

Ralph Berrier Jr. can be reached at ralph.berrier@roanoke.com or 981-3338.

Alexis Helms can be reached at alexis.helms@roanoke.com or 981-3138.

Ralph Berrier Jr. has worked at The Roanoke Times since 1993, was the paper’s music reporter from 2000-2007 and he currently writes the Dadline parenting column and is a general assignment features reporter.

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