Pelham Leap Year Celebrations in the 1920s, 1930s, and 1940s
Pelham loves a party. It always has. One sort of celebration that seems to have waned in recent years, however, is the celebration of Leap Year. With today being Leap Day in this Leap Year, it seems most appropriate to consider the history of Leap Year celebrations in our little town.
For many years in many different nations (in earlier times), there were folk traditions providing that during a leap year women were "permitted" to propose to men with most such marriage proposals on Leap Day. In some countries Leap Day was even referred to as "Bachelor's Day" in recognition of the folk tradition.
By the 1920s, 1930s, and 1940s in much of the United States including Pelham, the tradition had evolved into a celebration where parties, dances, and events were scheduled with an expectation that women and girls would play a role that, in those days, men and boys traditionally played. For example, women would ask men out, would send them a carnation or boutonniere in advance, would pick them up and escort them to the event. At dances, women asked men to dance, cut in on other dance pairs, and the like. As one wag put it, in terms more appropriate then than now, at such dances it was the men who were "wallflowers."
During the 1920s, 1930s, and even the 1940s, clearly the most popular form of Leap Year celebration in Pelham was a "Leap Year Dance." Such dances were sponsored by organizations including the Manor Club, the Young Men's Republican Party of Pelham, and others. As one might expect, such dances also were held at Pelham Memorial High School.
Others hosted private Leap Year parties or sponsored gatherings such as bridge tournaments on Leap Day in honor of Leap Year. Perhaps the oddest form of Leap Year celebration in the Town of Pelham, however, involved what Pelhamites called the "Leap Year Lily."
Some Pelham residents attempted to nurture a particular plant in the hope it might bloom on or near Leap Day. The plant, native to Sumatra, was what we call today a "Corpse Flower" Also known as the Titan Arum (Amorphophallus Titanium). In Pelham, the plant was known as a "Leap Year Lily" -- a name that seems unique to our town. Residents apparently named their plants in this way because the plants were known to "leap" in growth by as much as fifteen inches in a day and, in the case of one such Pelham Leap Year Lily, reached a height of more than five feet.
In February 1932, neighbors of Mr. and Mrs. E. F. Burnett of 246 Loring Avenue streamed to the Burnetts' garden to see their "Leap Year Lily" that had grown to a height of 63 inches and bloomed. As noted by the local newspaper, given the awful stench emitted by the plant -- a stench that evolved to attract insects that preferred carrion to pollinate the plants -- neighbors admired the odd curiosity "from a distance."
Once the local newspaper reported on Pelham's Leap Year Lily, others came forward with stories of their own such Leap Year Lilies. Mayor and Mrs. Edward B. Harder of the Village of North Pelham announced that they were cultivating several such plants that were smaller than the one cultivated by the Burnetts.
Yes, Pelham has always loved a celebration. Celebrating Leap Year with a Corpse Flower, however, certainly seems . . . . . . . a little odd.
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Below is the transcribed text from several stories that appeared in The Pelham Sun during the 1920s, 1930s, and 1940s describing Leap Year celebration events in the Town of Pelham. Each is followed by a citation and link to its source.
"SOCIETY . . .
Miss Lorna Doone, of Third avenue, entertained at a Leap Year Dance at her home recently. The guests included: Miss Marion Farrell, Miss Murtel Trigge, Richard and William Farrell, Stanley Parker, Frederick Hilderbrandt, Mr. and Mrs. Willard Young, and Joseph Farrelly, of Pelham. Frederick Brown, Miss Anne Gogh, Miss Alice Doone, Miss Laura Smith, of New York. Stanley Church, Albert Johnson, Herbert McCord, Miss Mary Simonson, of New Rochelle, Robert Kelley, of Cape Cod, Lee Seeley, of Mt. Vernon. The Misses Borghild and Lillian Johnson, of Sherwood Park, Yonkers. Miss Helen Payton and Harold Hungerford, of Scarsdale. . . ."
Source: SOCIETY, The Pelham Sun, Feb. 24, 1926, p. 7, cols. 1-3.
"LEAP YEAR LILY GROWS 15 INCHES IN SINGLE DAY
Grew Fifty-three Inches in Fifteen Days at Burnett Home on Loring Avenue -- Lives on Air.
The problem of how to exist during these days of depression has been solved by a plant -- so all ye bankers and brokers, take note.
Grandiflorum oderiferous obnoxious -- the Leap Year lily, a bulbous plant which, when laid on a saucer, without dirt or moisture, or other visible means of support is quite likely to suddenly shoot out a spike that will grow ten or even fifteen inches in a single day, and finally, after attaining the height of an average man, blossom forth in a glorious lily-like flower of blood-red hue, is one of the most curious plants seen in the Pelhams for many years. Quite as disconcerting as its rapid growth, is the nauseating odor which it creates during its pollination season -- an odor of carrion, making it impossible for anyone to stay in a closed room with the flower for any length of time.
The Snake-tongue of the Orient as the flower is sometimes called, is in possession of Mrs. E. F. Burnett of 246 Loring avenue. The bulb was given to her by a neighbor, Mrs. Goldsborough, four years ago. Each summer after planting it has sent up a short red-tipped spike which would unfold into a magnificently veined green leaf about the size of an umbrella top. The leaf dies down each fall and the bulb is taken up and stored in the usual manner.
This year, however, the early days of January witnessed a sudden appearance of a short red spike which thrust its way upward and began to grow with amazing rapidity until devoid of leaf and in appearance resembling a broom it reached an elevation of 10 1/2 inches on January 16th. A record of its growth from then was kept by Mrs. Burnett. It shows that on January 17th an inch was added and another inch the following day. On the 18th the plant added another 1 1/2 inches and repeated the performance the following day. During the following two days it added 2 1/2 inches and then made a leap of 8 inches upward on the 22nd and 7 inches on the 25th; on the 26th it got into full stride adding 15 inches to its stature and the next day putting on 5 more; on January 28th with the addition of another day's upward climb the sturdy stalk had ascended to 57 inches and the two following days it added 6 inches for a total score of 63 inches. The spike at the end of the stalk then unfolded into a lily 19 inches in height with a flaming tongue going on upward for 28 inches -- and then came the dawn, and the floral gas attack as the Literary Digest has described its pollination odor.
Many neighbors have visited the Burnett home and viewed the flower from a respectful distance and marveled at its growth minus water and earth. A botanist tells us that the bulb acts as a storage battery for the energy which is taken from the sun's rays through the agency of the green leaf. The offensive odor is a means of attracting the carrion flies of the desert, which act as the fertilizing agent of the plant.
The plant is a remarkable one to grow for once -- but once is enough."
Source: LEAP YEAR LILY GROWS 15 INCHES IN SINGLE DAY -- Grew Fifty-three Inches in Fifteen Days at Burnett Home on Loring Avenue -- Lives on Air,The Pelham Sun, Feb. 19, 1932, p. 5, col. 1.
"MORE LEAPING LILIES ARE FOUND HERE
Publication last week of the story of the Leap Year Lily which grows in leaps as much as fifteen inches in single day has brought to light more specimens of the same species which are growing in local gardens. The lily, or, to use its proper name 'Amothorthalis,' [sic] which established the reputation for sudden growth, is the property of Mrs. E. F. Burnett of Loring avenue, but several smaller plants can be found at the residence of Mayor and Mrs. Edward B. Harder of North Pelham.
The bulbs of these plants came originally from Sumatra in the East Indies, and were brought to America by an uncle of Mrs. Harder who was captain of a vessel making the island a port of call. These have not been so ambitious as that at the Burnett residence, and have reached a height of only a foot or so, but they show great promise of doing as well as the now famous Leap Year Lily.
Mrs. Harder tells of another member of of her family now residing in Montreal who has one of these plants which is about forty years old and has reached a height of six feet during blooming time."
Source: MORE LEAPING LILIES ARE FOUND HERE, The Pelham Sun, Feb. 26, 1932, p. 8, col. 8.
"JUNIOR DANCE AT CLUB MARCH 28th
The Junior Dance Committee of the Manor Club is planning a spring dance for the Juniors at the Manor Club on Monday evening, March 28th at the Manor Club.
This dance will be a Leap Year affair and the young ladies will have an opportunity to invite their escorts. Mrs. L. Leigh Willard, is chairman of the committee in charge."
Source: JUNIOR DANCE AT CLUB MARCH 28th, The Pelham Sun, Feb. 26, 1932, p. 3, col. 3.
"Many Prominent Guests At Young G. O. P. Social Fete
Midwinter Social Function of Young Men's Republican Club Held at Pelham Country Club.
Politics forgotten for the evening, more than 300 members and friends of the Pelham Young Men's Republican Club danced to the small hours in the Pelham Country Club on Saturday night. The occasion was a Leap Year dance of the Young G. O. P. and proved to be a popular social event. Dancing was from 9:00 p.m. to 2:00 a.m. Music was furnished by the Club Monitor Orchestra.
Included among those present were Supervisor Harold Davis, County Treasurer William Coffey; Alfred Sulla, Jr., Treasurer of the Young Men's Republican Clubs of Westchester County G.O.P., Dominic Amato, Mayor of North Pelham, and Town Councilman Henry Simmen.
Also, James Bollettieri, North Pelham Village Trustee; Henry Geller, Fire Commissioner of the First Fire District and Republican nominee for the post of North Pelham Village Trustee; Town Clerk George O'Sullivan, Theodore Van Twisk, E. F. Eilert, George Usbeck and Louis Engerud. The dance was replete with good fellowship and termed by Benjamin Pevo, president as the most successful yet held by the Young Men's Republican Club."
Source: Many Prominent Guests at Young G. O. P. Social Fete -- Midwinter Social Function of Young Men's Republican Club Held at Pelham Country Club, The Pelham Sun, Mar. 6, 1936, p. 6, col. 1.
"HEARD AROUND THE HIGH SCHOOL
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REVERSE PROGRAM AT SENIOR HIGH LEAP YEAR DANCE
Girls are Escorts at Novel Program Staged in Gymnasium of School on Friday night.
It was all staged backwards but resulted in one of the most successful dances ever held in the high school gymnasium, on Friday night, as girls cut in and boys became wall flowers. The occasion was a Leap Year dance given by the General Organization of Pelham Memorial High School, which was attended by 275 students, their parents and friends.
The dance, classed by those present as the best given by the school in some years, was a Leap Year affair done in the traditional manner. Many a manly student received a carnation from the florist before leaving home. And when his girlish escort arrived he found she had purchased the tickets.
Friday being the 13th of March and the pet day of the superstitious those who were afraid of doing the wrong thing found signs tacked around the gym giving solemn warning. Chaperons for the occasion were Mr. and Mrs. Carl Schilling, Miss Lois Chappell, Miss Janet Taylor and Mr. and Mrs. S. Wynne Keever.
The Cleff Dwellers Orchestra supplied music for the dance. Miss Edyth Dean, featured vocalist with the Cleff Dwellers, rendered several vocal selections. A tap-dance team of Jackie Weeks of Mount Verrnon, and James Kennett of North Pelham, entertained between dances.
Miss Beverly Bender was general chairman of the dance committee. Assisting in various duties were Inez Belucci, Cadi Roberts, Eugene Mortlock, Evelyn Bodin, Kay Anderson, Isabel Head, Jane Krause, Sybil Rose, Alice Willis, Dorothy Bryer, Dorothy Lavery, Virginia Swan and Ruth Szold. Hostesses were Barbara Arnold, Shirley and Anne Feurst, Louise and Marion Hurlbut, Fanny Crowe, Patty Hawe, Jean Crozier, Lillion Manger and Phoebe Love."
Source: Simmen, Arline, Heard Around the High School: REVERSE PROGRAM AT SENIOR HIGH LEAP YEAR DANCE -- Girls are Escorts at Novel Program Staged in Gymnasium of School on Friday Night, The Pelham Sun, Mar. 20, 1936, p. 5, col. 1.
"LEAP YEAR DANCE TONIGHT AT CLUB FOR JUNIOR SET
Manor Club Will Be Festive With Spring Flowers for Annual Party for Younger Set.
The annual Spring dance for juniors to be held at the Manor Club tonight will take a leap year guise with a group of young girls assuming the duties of a floor committee and the members of the fair sex generally, assuming the social prerogatives usually enjoyed by the boys. Mrs. Lawrence Morris of Pelham Manor heads the Holiday Dance Committee in charge of arrangements.
Mrs. Morris has announced the following floor committee: the Misses Isabel Manger, Jacqueline McConnochie, Mary Dowdell, Louise Hurlbut, Virginia Morris, Nancy Bradley, Beverly Bender, Marion Hurlbut, Mary Carreau and Katherine Gillett.
The clubhouse will be decorated with Spring flowers for the party which is a major social event of the season for young people enjoying recesses from preparatory schools and colleges in different parts of the country.
Music for dancing will be furnished by Ford's Orchestra,"
Source: LEAP YEAR DANCE TONIGHT AT CLUB FOR JUNIOR SET -- Manor Club Will Be Festive With Spring Flowers for Annual Party for Younger Set, The Pelham Sun, Mar. 27, 1936, Second Section p. 1, col. 5.
"EASTERN STAR OFFICIALS TO VISIT CHAPTER
District Deputy and Lecturer to be Greeted by Winyah Chapter on Wednesday Night, Feb. 21.
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Winyah Chapter is making plans for a Leap Year Bridge to be held in the Masonic Temple on Thursday night, Feb. 29 with Mrs. Duncan Taylor, Mrs. Clarence Elliott and Mrs. A. T. Wolf in charge."
Source: EASTERN STAR OFFICIALS TO VISIT CHAPTER -- District Deputy and Lecturer to be Greeted by Winyah Chapter on Wednesday Night, Feb. 21, The Pelham Sun, Feb. 10, 1940, p.6, col. 4.
"Bananas and Hamburger
There had been a Leap Year Dance at the High School and two girls of the fluffy age were telling about it on the bus. One had undergone an experience which was just rank injustice. The Leap Year rules called for the girls to take the boys out and pay their way -- which is a mighty bad precedent to set these days. One was saying: 'I took him over to Lane's and we sat down and all I had was seventy-five cents. I was careful to order a vanilla soda, and what DO YOU THINK -- he ordered a banana split, and I had to sit there and watch him eat it after I had finished mine. Was my mouth watering. I had planned to buy him some hamburgers after that but I just couldn't.' Banana split and hamburger -- as a doctoring dyspeptic, we nearly collapsed at the thought."
Source: Bananas and Hamburger, The Pelham Sun, Mar. 8, 1940, p. 2, col. 3.
"DANCE ARRANGED BY SORORITIES POPULAR PARTY
Pelham Country Club Scene of Inter-Sorority Leap Year Dance on Saturday Night in Manor.
About 350 members of the younger set attended the Leap Year dance which was held at Pelham Country Club on Saturday night, sponsored by Phi Tau, Phi Delta and Sigma Phi Nu sororities.
Blue and red cellophane featured in the decorative scheme. Music was furnished by Bill Edwards' Sweet and Swing Orchestra. A number of feature dances added variety to the program.
Gardenias were presented as favors to the chaperons who included Mr. and Mrs. Myron McLane, Mr. and Mrs. C.C. Crozier, Mr. and Mrs. Michael P. Tully, Mr. and Mrs. E. J. Markey, Mr. and Mrs. F. R. Stirn and Mr. and Mrs. Harold B. Barnett.
The committee included Miss Doris Barnett, president of Phi Delta also Miss Marie Leyendecker, Miss Eleanor Anderson, Miss Lucille Wilson; Miss Mary Tully, president of Sigma Phi Nu, Miss Janet Bogart, Miss Eileen Stephenson, MMiss Helene Tylor, president of Phi Tau, Miss Barbara Williamson, Miss Jane Longus and Miss Jane Guard."
Source: DANCE ARRANGED BY SORORITIES POPULAR PARTY -- Pelham Country Club Scene of Inter-Sorority Leap Year Dance on Saturday Night in Manor, The Pelham Sun, Feb. 2, 1940, p. 8, col. 1.