Thursday, February 23, 2012

Leap Year Fiesta Memories

By S. Derrickson Moore
ANTHONY, N.M. & TEXAS — I’ve been there, done that and still treasure the T-shirt. And I’m delighted that others will be able to share one of my favorite fiestas again this year.
Even in the Land of Enchantment, ground zero for exotic fiestas, Anthony’s Worldwide Leap Year Festival has always been a standout.
This will be my fifth Feb. 29 in the suburbs of the Leap Year Capital of the World, the site of my most memorable Leap Year celebrations.
My first encounter with the 29ers was in 1996, when I met Mary Ann Brown, an artist, former journalist, skilled equestrian and enterprising 29er who decided her home in the border-straddling little community of Anthony (Texas and New Mexico) was the perfect place for a Leap Year Festival.
She invited me to her cozy, art-filled home and showed me pictures of the first celebration in 1988, when she and nine other 29ers (also know as Leapers and Leaplings) threw a birthday in the family auto parts store.
The 1996 festival was laid back and charming … and beginning to attract attention that would make the “worldwide” description more than a cheerful boast. Through national TV, newspaper and magazine exposure and an increasingly active website, Mary Ann heard from 29ers all over the world, some of whom decided they wanted to come in person to celebrate in a town that honored their unique birthday.
Among those who took notice was Graham Nash, of Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young fame. He wanted to honor his 29er wife, Susan, and their friendly connection with Mary Ann turned the 2000 Leap Year Festival into a celebration the likes of which had never been seen in Anthony, or any place else.
“We love small town festivals,” Susan told me when I did stories on the big bash for the Las Cruces Sun-News and New Mexico Magazine.
They loved this one so much that they brought a large entourage of family and friends. Graham presented a free concert that attracted a big, happy crowd, and prevailed on his pal, world-renowned artist Peter Max, famed for his “Cosmic” psychedelic paintings and posters, to create a T-shirt for the millennium leap year event. Another famous amiga, Bette Midler, loaned one of her legendary mermaid outfits to Susan Nash for the festival parade.
Mary Ann presided over the big bash with the appropriate exuberance of a birthday girl of 17, her Leaper age then, and the mature competence of someone who had been generating fun for more than six decades.
Thanks to her efforts, governors of Texas and New Mexico have issued proclamations naming Anthony official Leap Year Capital of the World, and Sen. Pete Domenici went on record (The Congressional Record, in fact) requesting that Congress and the President join in the proclamation. There were commemorative postmarks. ABC’s Good Morning America show did a live remote broadcast from the fiesta in 2000 and the New York Times and the Washington Post did stories.
From our first meeting, Mary Ann has been an enthusiastic cheerleader for the festival and her little community, which she loves. She told me her main goal was always to bring some attention and business to the Anthonys.
For the past two decades, she’s called and written me at least a year in advance of each of her birthdays and urged me to do a story and alert the Associated Press — and in recent years, online editors at the papers in our chain — so the word would get out in plenty of time to allow 29ers from throughout the nation and the planet to make their travel plans for the Worldwide Leap Year Birthday Party and parade.
I got her call early in 2011, too, and was concerned when I hadn’t gotten the usual monthly heads-up follow-up calls.
When a story broke that the festival might be canceled, I tracked down her son, Jerry Garland Brown, and learned that Mary Ann has been ill and the festival was in jeopardy.
But Mary Ann has established a legacy and the 29ers will not be denied. In fact, it may be bigger and better than ever, Jerry predicts, with events from Feb. 25 through March 4.
“There will be a redo of the very first leap year capital birthday reception at the 1988 original site, which is now Mattress America, 709 S. Main St. in Anthony, hopefully with many more Leapers present,” Jerry said, announcing an event-packed schedule. For info, visit
Mary Ann, who was born Feb. 29, 1932, turns 20 this year. I recently talked with her and she sounded great. She reminisced about past fiestas and joked about being able to “legally” enjoy a champagne toast at the next party in four years when she finally turns 21.
Happy birthday, Mary Ann, and thanks for sharing your parties with the world.

S. Derrickson Moore can be reached at (575) 541-5450. Follow her on Twitter @DerricksonMoore.

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