Happy Leap Day

We get an extra day on the calendar once every four years, and it’s happening again today.

Since I’m in the formatting stage of my soon-to-be-released book of Dad’s letters home during World War II, I checked to see what he was up to on Tuesday, Feb. 29, 1944. He was in the US Army Air Force pilot training program at Cal-Aero Flight Academy in Ontario, California. Although he didn’t write home that day, he wrote on Feb. 28 that he’d had a “grand day flying.” I found the above picture in his photo album, taken by his family on his graduation day in April 1944.

Just for fun, I did a little research to see if anything interesting happened on Leap Days throughout history.

According to Stephen Wood in History.com, the ancients were all over the board when it came to keeping their calendars in tune with the seasons. Some sporadically interjected extra days or even a month when things got too far off-kilter. “The early Roman calendar consisted of ten months plus an ill-defined winter period, the varying length of which caused the calendar to become unpegged from the solar year.

“Eventually, this uncertain stretch of time was replaced by the new months of January and February, but the situation remained complicated. They employed a 23-day intercalary month known as Mercedonius to account for the difference between their year and the solar year, inserting it not between months but within the month of February for reasons that may have been related to lunar cycles.”

If you think politics are bad today, Wood says things were pretty bad during Roman times, too.

“To make matters even more confusing, the decision of when to hold Mercedonius often fell to the consuls, who used their ability to shorten or extend the year to their own political ends. As a result, by the time of Julius Caesar, the Roman year and the solar year were thoroughly out of sync.

“The Mercedonius-when-we-feel-like-it system apparently irked Caesar, the general-turned-consul-turned-dictator of Rome who drastically altered the course of European history. In addition to conquering Gaul and transforming Rome from a republic into an empire, Caesar re-ordered the Roman calendar, giving us the blueprint off of which much of the world still operates to this day.”

Wood says that by the 16th century scholars noticed their math was still a bit off, so they introduced Leap Day with the Gregorian calendar in the late 1500s.

Since then, several interesting events have happened on Leap Day, according to the News-Press in Ft. Myers, FL. The first one doesn’t officially count because it happened in 1504, but it’s worthy of mention:

  • Christopher Columbus, stranded in Jamaica during his fourth voyage to the West, used an almanac to correctly predict a Feb. 29 total lunar eclipse and scare the native Arawak Indians into providing food for his crew.
  • According to the Salem Witch Museum, on Feb. 29, 1692, the first warrants of the Salem Witch Trials were issued for the arrests of Sarah Good, Sarah Osborne, and an enslaved woman named Tituba. The trio was accused by two girls, Betty Parris and Abigail Williams, of using witchcraft to hurt them.
  • In 1944 Karol Wojtyla, the future Pope John Paul II, was struck by a German truck in a forced labor camp in Kraków, Poland. He was hospitalized with a severe concussion and other injuries.

Who knows what will happen today, but rest assured—we live in interesting times.

#LeapDay #LeapYear #WWII

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