Written By: Ben Cosgrove

February 29 is one of those dates, like November 11, or Friday the 13th, or the summer solstice, that seems more freighted with possibilities, both good and bad, than other days of the year. And because the 29th day of the second month only comes around every four years—an attempt by humans to make up for the fact that a year is not, strictly speaking, comprised of 365 days, but 365 and a quarter days (it’s math, look it up)—Leap Day can sometimes feel like a gift. An extra day added to the calendar. A full 24 hours that we didn’t have last year and that we won’t have next year, in which we might do … anything.

Here, then, in celebration of Leap Day, and of the wonderful act of simply leaping about, LIFE.com respectfully offers a gallery of pictures that feel full of possibilities: images that, for the most part, try to approximate what Wordsworth might have been driving at when he wrote, more than 200 years ago, “My heart leaps up when I behold / A rainbow in the sky.”

Or, as House of Pain put it more succinctly, if less poetically in 1992: Jump around!

Happy Leap Day, everybody.

Liz Ronk edited this gallery for LIFE.com. Follow her on Twitter @lizabethronk.

 

Fred Astaire executes a seemingly effortless leap in the 1946 film, Blue Skies.

Bob Landry Time & Life Pictures/Shutterstock

Presidential candidate John F. Kennedy leaps from his car in 1960.

Paul Schutzer Time & Life Pictures/Shutterstock

Artist Jane Eakin sits on the shoulders of rope-skipping champion Gordon Hathaway in 1947.

Gjon Mili Time & Life Pictures/Shutterstock

Starlet June Preisser jumping in a pool, 1940

Peter Stackpole Time & Life Pictures/Shutterstock

Hugh O’Brian as Wyatt Earp, 1956

Allan Grant Time & Life Pictures/Shutterstock

Crewmen simulating escape from a plane jump, in their flight suits, into a swimming pool during training at McClellan Air Force base in California in 1954.

George Silk Time & Life Pictures/Shutterstock

Acrobat and actor Russ Tamblyn does a flip on the sidewalk while walking with Venetia Stevenson in 1955.

Allan Grant Time & Life Pictures/Shutterstock

Actress Christine Norden and jumping dog in 1948

Nat Farbman Time & Life Pictures/Shutterstock

A horse and rider sail gracefully toward a water tank in Atlantic City in 1953.

Peter Stackpole Time & Life Pictures/Shutterstock

A multiple exposure shot of a gymnast jumping on a trampoline in 1960.

A multiple exposure shot of a gymnast jumping on a trampoline in 1960.

J.R. Eyerman Time & Life Pictures/Shutterstock

Alice Marble, No. 1 American women’s tennis player, leaps over the net in 1939.

Gjon Mili Time & Life Pictures/Shutterstock

Walter Davis leads a dance class, 1952

John Dominis Time & Life Pictures/Shutterstock

Frank Gehry jumps on a desk   part of his line of cardboard furniture   in 1972.

Architect and designer Frank Gehry jumps on a desk—part of his line of cardboard furniture—in 1972.

Ralph Morse Time & Life Pictures/Shutterstock

Rudy the Dachshund shows off his bed-jumping form in 1946.

Frank Scherschel Time & Life Pictures/Shutterstock

A man jumps on a trampoline in California in 1960.

Ralph Crane Time & Life Pictures/Shutterstock

An SMU cheerleader takes to the air at a University of Texas football game in 1950.

An SMU cheerleader takes to the air at a University of Texas football game in 1950.

Loomis Dean Time & Life Pictures/Shutterstock

Leon James and Willa Mae Ricker demonstrate how the Lindy Hop is meant to be danced in 1943

Gjon Mili Time & Life Pictures/Shutterstock

Tamara Toumanova executes a grand jeté for actor, singer, dancer and comedian Danny Kaye in 1945.

Peter Stackpole Time & Life Pictures/Shutterstock

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