Tuesday, January 08, 2008

Happy Leap Year!

As you know, 2008 is a leap year, when we have an extra day on the calendar, February 29. Some also recognize these years as a time for certain quadrennial events, such as the Olympics and the presidential campaign season. (Although nowadays the campaigns seem to not just occur every four years, but to last for four years.)

In the nineteenth century, in particular, it was also the time for Leap Year Parties. Here is a scene from a Leap Year Party held in Sandusky 142 years ago, on Friday, January 21, 1876. Unfortunately, we do not have much detail on the party itself. The photograph was donated to the library in 1928 by Fred Woolsey, who is seated at the left in the picture. He went on to become the owner of the Woolsey Wheel Company in Sandusky. The other men are: Charles Mills, Albert Rosenbaum, Charles Johnson, Dr. Gibson, Sam Ferris, and D.W.C. Brown, Jr. Why these men are wearing ribbons and handkerchiefs fastened to their clothes is unclear, but it might have something to do with a leap year tradition. . . .

Legend holds that on leap year days (some say the entire leap year), it was socially acceptable for women to propose marriage to men; any other time of the year, etiquette and custom dictated that only men were allowed to propose marriage. Also, it became a tradition to have Leap Year parties, where the women invited the men to be their dates and dance partners, and were in charge of the festivities. (Some claim that that is where the idea for Sadie Hawkins dances came from.) We can only speculate, but perhaps the handkerchiefs and ribbons symbolize the men's position as secondary to the women on that day. Any thoughts?

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