Sunday, February 13, 2011

Valentine's Day—The Good And The Bad

The Good:

Valentine's Day is that time of the year when cards, flowers, candy, jewelry, and other tokens of affection are given to loved ones in the name of St. Valentine. But who is St. Valentine and why do we celebrate his holiday every year?

One legend says Valentine was a priest in the third century in Rome. Emperor Claudius II decided single men made better soldiers so he outlawed marriage for young men. Valentine defied Claudius and continued to perform marriages for young lovers in secret. Claudius ordered him put to death.

Another story has Valentine killed for attempting to help Christians escape harsh Roman prisons where they were beaten and tortured.

And yet another story says Valentine was the one who sent the first 'Valentine Greeting' while he was in prison. He fell in love with a young girl, possibly the jailor's daughter, who visited him while he was imprisoned. Before his death, he wrote her a letter and signed it 'From your Valentine,' an expression that has transcended time to continue as a common expression for the holiday.

St. Valentine's Day, as we know it today, is a combination of both Christian and ancient Roman tradition. One theory says we celebrate Valentine's Day in the middle of February to commemorate the anniversary of Valentine's death or burial which probably occurred around 270A.D., while others believe that the Christian church may have decided to celebrate Valentine's feast day in the middle of February in an effort to 'Christianize' celebrations of the pagan Lupercalia festival.

According to the Greeting Card Association, an estimated one billion valentine cards are sent each year, making Valentine's Day the second largest card-sending holiday, surpassed only by the exchange of Christmas cards. Valentine's Day is celebrated in Canada, Mexico, the United Kingdom, France, and Australia in addition to the United States.

The Bad:

The St. Valentine's Day massacre—the most spectacular gangland slaying in mob history.

Al Capone ('known' to be the mastermind, but never charged for the crime) had arranged for his chief rival, Chicago mobster George "Bugs" Moran and most of his North Side Gang, to be eliminated on February 14, 1929. The plan was simple and deviously clever, yet Capone's primary target escaped any injury. Capone distanced himself from the execution of the plan (and the execution of his rivals) by spending the time at his home in Florida.

A bootlegger loyal to Capone was to draw Moran and his gang to a warehouse to receive a shipment of smuggled whiskey, the delivery set for 10:30AM on Valentine's Day.

The morning of February 14 was cold and snowy. A group of Moran's men waited for Bugs at the red brick warehouse at 2122 North Clark Street. Moran was running late. When his car turned the corner onto Clark Street, he spotted a police wagon pulling up to the warehouse. Assuming it was a raid, he watched as five men, three of them dressed in police uniforms, entered the building. Moran and the two men with him, immediately left the area.

Inside the warehouse, Moran's men were confronted by the hit men disguised as police. Assuming it was a routine bust, they followed instructions when ordered to line up against the wall. The hit men opened fire with Thompson submachine guns, killing six of the seven men immediately. The seventh man, with twenty-two bullet wounds, survived the attack but died after arriving at the hospital.

The newspapers instantly picked up on the crime, dubbing it the "St. Valentine's Day Massacre." The story appeared on front pages around the country, making Capone a national celebrity. But to his dismay, this new found celebrity also brought a new level of attention from federal law enforcement culminating in his conviction for tax evasion and incarceration at Alcatraz.


Maeve said...

Oh my, Samantha! I'd totally forgotten about the massacre. Definitely "BAD". Great post!

Mona Risk said...

Thanks for the great stories. I never knew about the St. Valentine's massacre.

Samantha Gentry said...

Maeve: Thanks. The St. Valentine's Day Massacre was the turning point between the public viewing the bootleggers as "non-criminals" in that they supplied the illegal alcohol that everyone wanted during Prohibition and the reality that they were vicious killers rather than glamorizing them.

Samantha Gentry said...

Mona: Thanks. The History Channel has an interesting 2 hour documentary on The St. Valentine's Day Massacre (narrated by Paul Sorvino) that they usually show this time of year.

Anonymous said...

It was an interesting if not bloody era in history.

I know it's not PC to ad on someone else's site, but respectfully, I have written a historical short story about this day.
All events are true as well as all the characters except John May's mother.
title "A Bloody Valentine Day"
If you are interested, check my website on 'recent releases' page.

Samantha Gentry said...

Anonymous: Definitely an interesting time in U.S. history. The irony of the St. Valentine's massacre is that it was a failure with regard to Capone's intention. Bugs Moran, Capone's rival and the object of the hit, wasn't even in the building. He wasn't touched.

Betty Ann Harris said...

It's a strange phenom. that a date can have historical significance for years and years, and then be changed by another significant event occurring on that date.

Interesting post, Samantha. Happy Valentine's Day!

Samantha Gentry said...

Betty Ann: I've often wondered if the Date of February 14 was chosen because it was Valentine's Day or if it was chosen for the day of the week and the necessary timing without any thought that it was Valentine's Day. It was the press that gave it the name of the St. Valentine's Day Massacre rather than something like Chicago Massacre. I guess that made for a more startling headline to sell more newspapers.