The Leap Year Privilege

It’s 2020, which means another Leap Year is upon us once again! For an event that only shows up once every four(ish) years, traditions associated with it are fairly scattered and inconsistent. But if any one tradition is firmly tied to Leap Year, it’s that of women proposing.

Here’s some history on how that might have come to be.

Up To The GirlsUp To The Girls Sat, Jan 2, 1904 – 2 · The Topeka Daily Herald (Topeka, Kansas) ·

St. Bridget’s Request

Legend says that St. Bridget, back in the 5th century, had some thoughts on proposals that led to the tradition as we know it today. The clipping below shares one version of what happened.

One version of the St. Patrick and St. Bridget origin of Leap Year proposalsOne version of the St. Patrick and St. Bridget origin of Leap Year proposals Mon, Feb 27, 1928 – 4 · Tampa Bay Times (St. Petersburg, Florida) ·

What’s a single young man to do if he must say no to a proposal? Give the young lady an apology gift, of course. The payment of a silk dress is a common recurring part of the proposal tradition.

Queen Margaret

The idea of a payment for spurned proposals is reinforced in this next part of Leap Year lore. As the story goes, in the year 1288, Queen Margaret of Scotland made it law that a man who dared turn down a perfectly good proposal without proof that he was already otherwise spoken for must pay—quite literally.

Queen Margaret's 1288 law, according to legendQueen Margaret’s 1288 law, according to legend Sat, Dec 30, 1967 – 15 · Edmonton Journal (Edmonton, Alberta, Canada) ·

Yet, despite the very specific year of 1288 and decades of dedicated historian research, no such law has ever been proven to exist. Not only that, but the actual Queen Margaret on whom this legend is based was born in 1283, making her 5 years old at the time of the law. So this bit of Leap Year history is almost certainly nothing more than a fun bit of mythical trivia.

The Scarlet Petticoat

Perhaps as a reaction to all of these rules for the proposee, a more recent bit of lore adds a restriction for the ladies. Sure, a man must still pay for refusing, but the whole transaction could be nullified for the lack of a bright red petticoat.

Absence of a red petticoat cleared a man of paying a leap day proposal fineAbsence of a red petticoat cleared a man of paying a leap day proposal fine Thu, Jan 14, 1960 – 1 · The Brockway Record (Brockway, Pennsylvania) ·

Leap Year Critics

Perhaps unsurprisingly, this tradition based on open season-style female proposals has often been derided in articles, cartoons, post cards and more over the decades. Men were considered, generally, to not be fans of the whole idea. Cartoonist Al Capp even played off the whole idea in his comic Li’l Abner, leading to the creation of Sadie Hawkins Day.

Many women looked down on it as well, thinking it made girls unbecomingly bold to the point of being embarrassing for all involved.

Some find Leap Years Some find Leap Years “Make a Girl Bolder Than Is Becoming” Mon, Mar 21, 1904 – 5 · Buffalo Courier (Buffalo, New York) ·

Now, as gender roles shift and progress, the idea of the “Leap Year Girl” doing things she could never otherwise do is fading into the past. Who knows but that the tradition will continue to change with it?

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Weather Predictions: Not Just for Groundhogs

Groundhog Day 2020 is just around the corner (on February 2nd, for those curious). With it comes the usual hullabaloo surrounding the noble groundhog and his mystical weather predictions. But while groundhogs are firmly established as the main prognosticators in U.S. culture, they are fairly new to the centuries-old prediction game.

Gus Ground Hog, Weather ProphetGus Ground Hog, Weather Prophet Tue, Feb 2, 1937 – 2 · () ·

Before Groundhogs, there were…


Badgers to GroundhogsBadgers to Groundhogs Thu, Feb 12, 1931 – Page 8 · The Evening Standard (Uniontown, Pennsylvania) ·

Groundhogs only have their current job thanks to their predecessors: badgers. It was only because groundhogs were more easily found in the United States that the groundhog entered the shadow-seeing spotlight.


Bears have also had their fair share of predicting the weather. How that worked, exactly, is unclear. It seems unlikely that crowds of people were standing around waiting for a bear to emerge as is done with the groundhog today.

Bear as weather prognosticatorBear as weather prognosticator Fri, Feb 2, 1923 – 2 · The Ottawa Citizen (Ottawa, Ontario, Canada) ·

This next clipping takes an entirely different direction. Shadows are cast aside in favor of a furrier approach. Unfortunately for Snow Star, the prognosticating zoo bear, her thin winter coat gave an unreliable prediction.

Prognosticating Bear may be fired for inaccurate weather forecastPrognosticating Bear may be fired for inaccurate weather forecast Thu, Jan 16, 1964 – 3 · The Baltimore Sun (Baltimore, Maryland) ·

The Woolly Bear—a much different kind of bear—had its day in the sun when scientists looked to the caterpillars’ coloring for answers.

The Woolly Bear weather predictorsThe Woolly Bear weather predictors Tue, Oct 11, 1983 – 34 · Lancaster New Era (Lancaster, Pennsylvania) ·


Science-based or not, the thickness and color of an animal’s (or insect’s) fur is about as convincing for some as the sight of a groundhog’s shadow.

Animals Animals “predicting” weather with winter coats Sun, Dec 24, 1916 – 62 · The Los Angeles Times (Los Angeles, California) ·

Whether you stand by the predictions of shadows and fur, or find it all a “fairy story” like the zoo head quoted above, the prediction tradition still holds strong.

Happy Groundhog Day!

Find more on the traditions of Groundhog Day and the history of animal prognosticators with a search on

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How Newspapers Captured D-Day on the Home Front

On June 6, 1944, newspaper front pages throughout the United States were filled with one thing: D-Day. Huge headlines, countless articles, and striking images all told the story of the critical invasion taking place in France.

But alongside the gripping news from overseas, newspapers also documented another side to D-Day, one closer to home: They captured how the people of their communities reacted to news of the invasion.

Below, we’ve gathered a sampling of 12 of these home front reactions from around the United States, as well as Canada, England, and Australia. Click on any image, article excerpt, or headline below to view the full thing on our site.

  • Windsor Daily Star, 06.06.1944
    Windsor Daily Star, 06.06.1944

Explore more D-Day newspaper coverage on our Topic Page! Or search for other D-Day content.

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Forgotten U.S. History: The Sultana Disaster

Appalling Steamboat Disaster (Sultana)

Appalling Steamboat Disaster (Sultana) Sat, Apr 29, 1865 – 1 · Chicago Tribune (Chicago, Illinois) ·

In late April of 1865, the steamboat Sultana chugged up the Mississippi river with over 2000 passengers weighing down its decks. Most were Union prisoners returning home from camps like Cahaba and Andersonville, weak and happy to be heading home after a hard and bloody war.

Payment and Patch-Jobs

With thousands of Union prisoners needing a way home, the U.S. Government paid steamship captains several dollars a head for every soldier transported north. The Chief Quartermaster at Vicksburg, Missouri, suggested a deal to Captain James Cass Mason of the Sultana: he’d get Mason a full load of 1400 men in return for some of that sweet government cash. Mason agreed, but didn’t expect over 1900 soldiers to crowd every spare inch of space on a boat only meant to carry 376.

Meanwhile, a leaking boiler on board had been quickly patched to allow the steamer to take on the massive load of passengers. With decks sagging under the weight and the boiler crack ominously nailed together with a metal plate, the Sultana continued on its way.

Last known photo of Sultana and passengers

Last known photo of Sultana and passengers Fri, Oct 7, 1994 – 7 · The Daily News-Journal (Murfreesboro, Tennessee) ·

Confluence of Consequence

At 2 am on April 27th, the leaking boiler exploded and took out two more boilers along with it. The blast tore the steamer apart just north of Memphis, Tennessee, and within twenty minutes the ship was burning to the water line. Those who survived the blast found themselves trapped on the fiery decks or thrown into the river. Those in the river either drowned, weakened from their injuries, or watched in horror as the ship burned with their friends still on board.

Details of the Sultana explosion

Details of the Sultana explosion Tue, May 9, 1865 – 1 · Buffalo Weekly Express (Buffalo, New York) ·

In all, around 1200 passengers perished. To this day it remains the worst maritime disaster in U.S. history. But in the wake of events like the war ending and Lincoln’s assassination, this tragedy has been all but forgotten.

News of Sultana disaster overshadowed by other significant events

News of Sultana disaster overshadowed by other significant events Fri, Oct 7, 1994 – 7 · The Daily News-Journal (Murfreesboro, Tennessee) ·

The Sultana disaster wasn’t as covered as other events at the time, but there’s more to find on Try a search for the steamship or Captain Mason for more about the incident and aftermath.

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Louis Armstrong Going Strong

From an April 2nd paper comes this jazzy announcement. In 1957, Louis “Satchmo” Armstrong attended a jazz concert to celebrate his birthday (actually his 56th). An earlier pneumonia scare lead to this great quote: “I know they wanted to get me up there to play first horn for Gabriel but I don’t think I’ll be up there for a long time yet.”

Louis Armstrong attending a jazz concert for 59th birthday

Louis Armstrong attending a jazz concert for 59th birthday Tue, Apr 2, 1957 – Page 8 · Naugatuck Daily News (Naugatuck, Connecticut) ·

Armstrong lived another 14 years, passing away at age 69 in July 1971.

Find more articles from his long and successful career with a browse through the papers of

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Robert Scott and the Terra Nova Expedition

On March 29, 1912, Captain Robert Falcon Scott of the British Antarctic Expedition made one final entry in his diary:

Captain Scott's last lines

Captain Scott’s last lines Thu, Nov 6, 1913 – 10 · The Boston Globe (Boston, Massachusetts) ·

The Expedition Begins

A year and a half earlier, the expedition that would claim his life began. Captain Scott’s expedition set sail in the summer of 1911 aboard the Terra Nova, the ship which gave the expedition its nickname.

Captain Robert Falcon Scott

Captain Robert Falcon Scott Tue, Feb 11, 1913 – Page 1 · The Philadelphia Inquirer (Philadelphia, Pennsylvania) ·

Scott's British Antarctic Expedition begins

Scott’s British Antarctic Expedition begins Thu, Jun 2, 1910 – Page 3 · Los Angeles Herald (Los Angeles, California) ·

Terra Nova, leaving New Zealand

Terra Nova, leaving New Zealand Mon, Feb 10, 1913 – 4 · The Boston Globe (Boston, Massachusetts) ·

Race to the Pole

They reached Antarctica in January, a few weeks later than planned. The early months of the expedition were spent laying depots and taking smaller scientific expeditions. Roald Amundsen‘s Norwegian Expedition was camped not far off, and Scott’s group felt the pressure to be the first to reach the South Pole.

Amundsen-Scott Routes

Amundsen-Scott Routes Tue, Feb 11, 1913 – 9 · The Guardian (London, Greater London, England) ·

Scott’s path to the South Pole took a different route than Amundsen’s, as seen in the clipping above. After enduring months of bitter cold and blizzards, Scott and the four men he’d chosen to make the full trek arrived at the pole. There they found Amundsen’s flag and a letter. The Norwegian team had beat them to the prize.

Reached South Pole one month after Amundsen expedition

Reached South Pole one month after Amundsen expedition Mon, Feb 10, 1913 – 4 · The Boston Globe (Boston, Massachusetts) ·

“It is a terrible disappointment.” Thu, Nov 6, 1913 – 10 · The Boston Globe (Boston, Massachusetts) ·

The Fateful Return

It was on the trip back to base that things quite literally went south. At first all went smoothly—weeks passed without trouble, and the men made good progress. But their health was quickly deteriorating as frostbite and general weariness took their toll. Petty Officer Edgar Evans was the first to die, one month after reaching the South Pole. Scott noted Evans’ poor condition, and it seems probable that Evans suffered a bad concussion from a fall.

Soon after, Lawrence Oates began to show signs of failing health. With his decline came Scott’s recognition that none of them would make it back.

Oates' health failing, chances grim for all

Oates’ health failing, chances grim for all Sat, Nov 8, 1913 – 6 · Staunton Daily Leader (Staunton, Virginia) ·

It became clear that Oates would not make it. He deliberately walked off from the party to his death, saying, “I am just going outside. I may be some time.” When he did not return, the group continued on without him.

Scott and the two remaining explorers, Edward Wilson and Henry Robertson Bowers, were forced to make camp 11 miles from One Ton Depot. Lack of supplies from the base camp and terrible weather sealed their doom. Scott made his March 29 diary entry, and it is presumed that the three men died later that day.

Scott and party found dead

Scott and party found dead Tue, Feb 11, 1913 – Page 1 · The Philadelphia Inquirer (Philadelphia, Pennsylvania) ·

Bitter Thoughts

Some months later the surviving expedition members formed a search party to learn the fate of Scott and his traveling companions. They found the three bodies of Scott, Bowers, and Wilson and erected a cairn as their final resting place. Speculation about whether they could have been saved circled among the survivors, and continues to be discussed today.

Scott Party thoughts

Scott Party thoughts Tue, Feb 18, 1913 – Page 7 · The Reidsville Review (Reidsville, North Carolina) ·

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A Glimpse Back: St. Patrick’s Day, 1917

A quick look at St. Patrick’s Day from over a century ago, complete with parades, patriotic flags, and some excellent hats. :

St Patrick's Day Parade, 1917St Patrick’s Day Parade, 1917 Sun, Mar 18, 1917 – Page 37 · San Francisco Chronicle (San Francisco, California) ·

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It’s March 14th, so Let Them Eat Pi(e)!

Welcome one and all to March 14th, the day that has become a celebration of mathematics and dessert known as “Pi Day”:

March 14 is Pi DayMarch 14 is Pi Day Wed, Mar 14, 2007 – Page B003 · St. Louis Post-Dispatch (St. Louis, Missouri) · Today's the day for pi(e)Today’s the day for pi(e) Wed, Mar 14, 2012 – 23 · Times Colonist (Victoria, British Columbia, Canada) · Larry Shaw, father of Pi DayLarry Shaw, father of Pi Day Sun, Feb 22, 2009 – 48 · Edmonton Journal (Edmonton, Alberta, Canada) · Pi Day with Larry ShawPi Day with Larry Shaw Fri, Mar 12, 1993 – 2 · The San Francisco Examiner (San Francisco, California) ·

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Bay Leaves on Your Pillow, and Other Love Spells

Happy Valentines Day! This day has its share of nay-sayers, and not without reason. Though some have more commercial concerns in mind, most find that lacking a significant other can really put a damper on a holiday centered around love. Such concerns are sprinkled throughout the papers, and with them come some rather unusual solutions. Some might call them superstitions, others call them spells. But all are said to be effective in leading you to love.

1. Scatter Something

The first method to snatching up a sweetheart involves hemp seed and, ideally, a church.

Valentine's Eve Hemp ScatteringValentine’s Eve Hemp Scattering Sun, Nov 25, 1900 – Page 21 · The Courier-Journal (Louisville, Jefferson, Kentucky, United States of America) · Sowing and Harrowing Hemp SeedSowing and Harrowing Hemp Seed Sat, Oct 29, 1892 – 20 · The Graphic: An Illustrated Weekly Newspaper (London, Greater London, England) ·

Lacking in hemp and/or churches? No problem. Just substitute hemp for barley and the church for an apple tree. You could even go for it on a different holiday, if you like:

Scatter Barley for your future husbandScatter Barley for your future husband Tue, Oct 20, 1896 – 3 · St. Albans Daily Messenger (Saint Albans, Vermont, United States of America) ·

2. Flower Power

It comes as no surprise that flowers can play a big role in matters of the heart. They have long been associated with Valentine’s Day, often gifted as a token of love. This is about love too…but it comes at it in a slightly different way.

Rose Leaves will name your loveRose Leaves will name your love Wed, Apr 23, 1884 – 7 · Gibson City Courier (Gibson City, Illinois, United States of America) · Simple flower love spellSimple flower love spell Tue, Oct 20, 1896 – 3 · St. Albans Daily Messenger (Saint Albans, Vermont, United States of America) ·

3. Spookier Spells

The following method works in much the same way that many mirror tricks do—mostly with a lot of staring. But while often such things are associated with visions of spooky ghosts, this one shows you the face of your future love.

The looking glass, comb, and apple love spellThe looking glass, comb, and apple love spell Sat, Oct 29, 1892 – 20 · The Graphic: An Illustrated Weekly Newspaper (London, Greater London, England) ·

If you’re really not into the sweeter stuff, there’s always Miss Hill’s somewhat morbid choice of spell. How she got hold of the man’s socks we may never know.

Socks in a new-made graveSocks in a new-made grave Fri, Jun 13, 1884 – Page 2 · The Shippensburg Chronicle (Shippensburg, Cumberland, Pennsylvania) ·

4. Pillow Leaves

Finally, we end with the well-established and once-loved practice of pinning bay leaves to your pillow. A night’s rest with this set up would guarantee dreams of your sweetheart.

Valentine's Bay Leaves traditionValentine’s Bay Leaves tradition Sun, Feb 10, 1957 – 11 · News-Journal (Mansfield, Richland, Ohio, United States of America) ·

Some pin the leaves at each corner of the pillow, with one directly in the middle, but Jody Berkey, below, has a more decorative approach.

Five bay leaves on your pillowFive bay leaves on your pillow Sun, Feb 10, 1957 – 11 · News-Journal (Mansfield, Richland, Ohio, United States of America) ·

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Florida Secedes from the Union: Today in Headlines

On January 9, 1861, “Florida Secedes” appears in newspaper headlines.

January 9 in Headlines: Florida SecedesJanuary 9 in Headlines Wed, Jan 9, 1861 – 1 · The Daily Exchange (Baltimore, Maryland, United States of America) ·

The secession became official the following day, making Florida the third state to leave the Union after South Carolina and Mississippi. Nine more states would join them in the months that followed, and it would be seven years before Florida officially rejoined the Union again.

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