It was a day to leap for joy Feb. 29: On this date, "Leap year babies" get to celebrate their actual birthday, while women use the occasion to propose marriage.

March 01, 1996|By Robert A. Erlandson | Robert A. Erlandson,SUN STAFF

Glenn S. Segal braced for it, and he got it right on schedule.

"Happy Birthday, Mr. Segal. We're older than you are," chanted his sixth-graders yesterday at Dumbarton Middle School when he walked into his classroom, which had been decked out with cards, presents and "Happy Birthday, Big 8" chalked across the blackboard.

As one of the nearly 10,000 leap year babies born in the United States on the quadrennial Feb. 29, Mr. Segal said he enjoys the jokes that seem to be the fate of people like himself. "It creates a big event every four years, but everyone else seems to make a bigger deal out of it than I do," he said.

Mr. Segal is a dedicated Looney Tunes fan, and his hobby played right into the students' hands. For seven years, he has collected Looney Tunes cartoon memorabilia, and among his presents were a poster of cartoon characters -- which he promptly hung over a classroom project -- and a Bugs Bunny TC book. "I always get little kids' presents," the science teacher quipped.

However, because Mr. Segal is chronologically 32, Dumbarton Principal Lynn Hoffman planned natal festivities for an adult. She gave a Chinese food birthday party for Mr. Segal and his fellow teachers at her Towson home.

Birthdays weren't the only leap year tradition played out yesterday. The Baltimore County Courts Building was abuzz with couples getting married -- after the women proposed.

Joanne O'Brien, a self-proclaimed "domestic goddess," proposed to Paul Martin a year ago -- two years after his daughter Bernice brought them together -- but it took her until yesterday to get him under the flower-decorated arbor in the marriage ceremonial room. One thing for sure: the new Mrs. Martin was far happier yesterday than she was on leap day 1988 -- the day she got divorced.

A seeming glitch occurred in another ceremony when the bride, who had popped the question in the first place, paused momentarily when Deputy Clerk Marlene King told the couple to join hands.

"If you want to back out, now's your time," groom Lonnie S. Coplin, 48, said to bride Lisa Marie Arrington, 27. She shook her head, smiled and gripped his hands.

The Coplins are from the York, Pa., area and said they came to Towson to be married because Pennsylvania requires premarital physicals and blood tests. "I didn't want a blood test. I don't like needles," Mrs. Coplin said.

And why did they choose to be married yesterday? "I like to be different, not like everyone else," Mr. Coplin said.

The Coplins weren't all that different, however. Ms. King said seven couples exchanged wedding vows, more than twice the usual number for a Thursday.

For a big-time leap year birthday, one had to look way out West to where the 29ers were gathering in Anthony, a town of 10,000 people on the New Mexico-Texas border. The 300-member Worldwide Leap Year Birthday Club kicked off its three-day festival yesterday with about 50 birthday boys and girls in town for a parade, fireworks and a barbecue.

"We're already starting to plan for the next one, in the year 2000," said Ruth Ashby of the Anthony Chamber of Commerce. (Call 505-882-5677 for information.)

The next Feb. 29 will be even more unusual than others -- Feb. 29, 2000, will be the first turn-of-a-century leap year since 1600. The years 1700, 1800 and 1900 were not leap years because they were not divisible by 400.

An extra day has been added to the calendar every four years since the time of ancient Rome. The 365-day year is actually fractionally longer, and without the leap day the difference eventually would become obvious. One scientist, for example, says we would end up shoveling snow in July.

To keep our calendar and our seasons in sync each year, we dispose of the leftover minutes and hours every four years, when they add up to a 366th day -- and a bit of fun.

Leap year

* Leap concept dates to Julius Caesar, who in 46 B.C. ordered the first calendar correction to account for the fraction of a day left over in each 365-day solar year.

* Refining the Julian calendar, Pope Gregory XIII ordered in 1582 that only centenary years divisible by 400 should be leap years. 2000 will be a leap year; 1700, 1800 and 1900 were not.

* By tradition -- and, in some cases, law -- unmarried women in the Middle Ages were given permission to propose to men during leap years.

* Leap day people: bandleader Jimmy Dorsey (born 1904), opera composer Gioacchino Antonio Rossini (born 1792), American Shakers founder Ann Lee (born 1736) and St. Oswald of Worcester (died 992).

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