As most of you may or may not know, Valentine’s Day occurs every February 14. Across the United States and in other places around the world, candy, flowers and horrible gifts are exchanged between loved ones and potential flames, all in the name of St. Valentine. But, have you ever asked yourself “who is this fantastical saint and where did these sappy traditions come from?” Did some guy in a cave, thousands of years ago, screw up with his woman after bopping her on the head with a stick? Did he just say “ugh...sorry… here rock”?
Well, the history of Valentine’s Day—and the story of its patron saint—is actually shrouded in mystery. We do know that February has long been celebrated as a month of romance, and that St. Valentine’s Day, as we know it today, contains traces of both Christian and ancient Roman tradition. But who was this Saint Valentine, and how did he become associated with this ancient ritual?
The Catholic Church recognizes at least three different saints named Valentine or Valentinus, all of whom died or were out to death, rather than renouncing their religion. One legend tells us that Valentine was a priest who served during the third century in Rome. When Emperor Claudius II decided that single men made better soldiers than those with wives and families, he outlawed marriage for young men. Valentine, realizing the injustice of the decree, and ever the romantic, defied Claudius and continued to perform marriages for young lovers in secret. When Valentine’s actions were inevitably discovered, Claudius ordered that he be put to death. Still others insist that it was Saint Valentine of Terni, a bishop, who was the true namesake of the holiday. He, too, was beheaded by Claudius II outside Rome. So… you know… Claudius was a swell guy.
Other stories suggest that Valentine may have been killed for attempting to help Christians escape harsh Roman prisons, where they were often beaten and tortured. According to one legend, an imprisoned Valentine actually sent the first “valentine” greeting himself after he fell in love with a young girl—possibly his jailor’s daughter—who visited him during his imprisonment. Before his death, it has been said that he wrote her a letter signed “From your Valentine,” an expression that is still used today. Although the truth behind the Valentine legends is murky, the stories all emphasize his appeal as a sympathetic, heroic and—most importantly—romantic figure. By the Middle Ages, perhaps thanks to this reputation, Valentine would become one of the most popular saints in England and France. The French! We are the most romantic! Screw the English!
While some believe that Valentine’s Day is celebrated in the middle of February to celebrate the anniversary of Valentine’s death or burial—which probably occurred around A.D. 270—others claim that the Christian church may have decided to place St. Valentine’s feast day in the middle of February in an effort to “Christianize” the pagan celebration of Lupercalia. Celebrated at the ides of February, or February 15, Lupercalia was actually a fertility festival dedicated to Faunus, the Roman god of agriculture, as well as to the Roman founders Romulus and Remus. Get all that? Sure you do!
At the start of the festival, members of the Luperci, an order of Roman priests, would gather at a sacred cave where the infants Romulus and Remus, the founders of Rome, were believed to have been cared for by a she-wolf or lupa. The priests would sacrifice a goat, for fertility, and a dog, for purification. Poor dog! They would then strip the goat’s hide into strips, dip them into the sacrificial blood and take to the streets, gently slapping both women and crop fields with the goat hide. Yep. Too bad that tradition is gone. Sounds SUPER fun! Anyway, Far from being a bunch of scared pansies, Roman women welcomed the slap of the hides because it was believed to make them more fertile in the coming year. Yeah! Later in the day, according to legend, all the young women in the city would place their names in a big urn. The city’s bachelors would each choose a name and become paired for the year with his chosen woman. These matches often ended in marriage. So, it was like eharmony but with a little more sacrifice and far less computers.
Lupercalia survived the initial rise of Christianity but was eventually outlawed, BUT OF COURSE IT WAS—as it was deemed “un-Christian”—at the end of the 5th century, when Pope Gelasius declared February 14 St. Valentine’s Day. It wasn’t until much later, however, that the day became definitively associated with love. During the Middle Ages, it was commonly believed in France and England that February 14 was the beginning of birds’ mating season, alright! which added to the idea that the middle of Valentine’s Day should be a day for romance. Because, ya know if birds do it… I mean… anyway. The English poet Geoffrey Chaucer was the first to record St. Valentine’s Day as a day of romantic celebration in his 1375 poem “Parliament of Foules,” writing, ““For this was sent on Seynt Valentyne’s day / Whan every foul cometh ther to choose his mate.” Smooth, Chaucer, real smooth.
Valentine greetings were popular as far back as the Middle Ages, though written Valentine’s didn’t begin to appear until after 1400. The oldest known valentine still in existence today was a poem written in 1415 by Charles, Duke of Orleans, to his wife while he was imprisoned in the Tower of London following his capture at the Battle of Agincourt. (The greeting is now part of the manuscript collection of the British Library in London, England.) Several years later, it is believed that King Henry V hired a writer named John Lydgate to compose a valentine note to Catherine of Valois.
Now, that chubby little bastard Cupid is often portrayed on Valentine’s Day cards as a naked cherub launching arrows of love at unsuspecting lovers. But the Roman God Cupid has his roots in Greek mythology as the Greek god of love, Eros. Accounts of his birth vary; some say he is the son of Nyx and Erebus; others, of Aphrodite and Ares; still others suggest he is the son of Iris and Zephyrus or even Aphrodite and Zeus (who would have been both his father and grandfather… because, you know… incest).
According to the Greek Archaic poets, Eros was a handsome immortal who played with the emotions of Gods and men, using golden arrows to incite love and leaden ones to simply fuck with people. It wasn’t until the Hellenistic period that he began to be portrayed as the mischievous, chubby child he’d become on Valentine’s Day cards. Such a weird transition. From handsome immortal to a fat baby in a diaper.
In addition to the United States, Valentine’s Day is celebrated in Canada, Mexico, the United Kingdom, France and Australia. In Great Britain, Valentine’s Day began to be popularly celebrated around the 17th century.
By the middle of the 18th century, it was common for friends and lovers of all social classes to exchange small tokens of affection or handwritten notes, and by 1900 printed cards began to replace written letters due to improvements in printing technology. Ready-made cards were an easy way for people to express their emotions in a time when direct expression of one’s feelings was discouraged. Cheaper postage rates also contributed to an increase in the popularity of sending Valentine’s Day greetings.
Americans probably began exchanging hand-made valentines in the early 1700s. In the 1840s, Esther A. Howland began selling the first mass-produced valentines in America. Howland, known as the “Mother of the Valentine,” made extravagant creations with real lace, ribbons and colorful pictures known as “scrap.” Today, according to the Greeting Card Association, an estimated 145 million Valentine’s Day cards are sent each year, making Valentine’s Day the second largest card-sending holiday of the year only next to Christmas
Some cool notes on St. Valentine.
2. In all, there are about a dozen St. Valentines, plus a pope.
The saint we celebrate on Valentine’s Day is known officially as St. Valentine of Rome in order to differentiate him from the dozen or so other Valentines on the list. Because “Valentinus”—from the Latin word for worthy, strong or powerful—was a popular moniker between the second and eighth centuries A.D., several martyrs over the centuries have carried this name. The official Roman Catholic roster of saints shows about a dozen who were named Valentine or some variation thereof. The most recently beatified Valentine is St. Valentine Berrio-Ochoa, a Spaniard of the Dominican order who traveled to Vietnam, where he served as bishop until his beheading in 1861. Pope John Paul II canonized Berrio-Ochoa in 1988. There was even a Pope Valentine, though little is known about him except that he served a mere 40 days around A.D. 827.
3. Valentine is the patron saint of beekeepers and epilepsy, among many other things.
Saints are certainly expected to keep busy in the afterlife. Their holy duties include interceding in earthly affairs and entertaining petitions from living souls. In this respect, St. Valentine has wide-ranging spiritual responsibilities. People call on him to watch over the lives of lovers, of course, but also for interventions regarding beekeeping and epilepsy, as well as the plague, fainting and traveling. As you might expect, he’s also the patron saint of engaged couples and happy marriages.
4. You can find Valentine’s skull in Rome.
The flower-adorned skull of St. Valentine is on display in the Basilica of Santa Maria in Cosmedin, Rome. In the early 1800s, the excavation of a catacomb near Rome yielded skeletal remains and other relics now associated with St. Valentine. As is customary, these bits and pieces of the late saint’s body have subsequently been distributed to holy containers around the world. You’ll find other bits of St. Valentine’s skeleton on display in the Czech Republic, Ireland, Scotland, England and France.
6. Here’s one for the ladies! You can actually celebrate Valentine’s Day several times a year.
Because of the abundance of St. Valentines on the Roman Catholic roster, you can choose to celebrate the saint multiple times each year. Aside from February 14, you might decide to celebrate St. Valentine of Viterbo on November 3. Or maybe you want to get a jump on the traditional Valentine celebration by feting St. Valentine of Raetia on January 7. Women might choose to honor the only female St. Valentine (Valentina), a virgin martyred in Palestine on July 25, A.D. 308. The Eastern Orthodox Church officially celebrates St. Valentine twice, once as an elder of the church on July 6 and once as a martyr on July 30.
Ok! So the lovey dovey shit is out of the way, let’s talk about some Murders.
At 10:30 a.m. on Saint Valentine's Day, Thursday, February 14, 1929, seven men were murdered at the garage at 2122 North Clark Street, in the Lincoln Park neighborhood of Chicago's North Side. They were shot by four men using weapons that included two Thompson submachine guns. Two of the shooters were dressed as uniformed policemen, while the others wore suits, ties, overcoats, and hats. Witnesses saw the fake police leading the other men at gunpoint out of the garage after the shooting.
The victims included five members of George "Bugs" Moran's North Side Gang. Moran's second in command and brother-in-law Albert Kachellek (alias James Clark) was killed along with Adam Heyer, the gang's bookkeeper and business manager, Albert Weinshank, who managed several cleaning and dyeing operations for Moran, and gang enforcers Frank Gusenberg and Peter Gusenberg. Two collaborators were also shot: Reinhardt H. Schwimmer, a former optician turned gambler and gang associate, and John May, an occasional mechanic for the Moran gang. Real Chicago police officers arrived at the scene to find that victim Frank Gusenberg was still alive. He was taken to the hospital, where doctors stabilized him for a short time and police tried to question him. He had sustained 14 bullet wounds; the police asked him who did it, and he replied, "No one shot me." He died three hours later.
Al Capone was widely assumed to have been responsible for ordering the murders in an attempt to eliminate Moran. Moran was the last survivor of the North Side gunmen; his succession had come about because his similarly aggressive predecessors Vincent Drucci and Hymie Weiss had been killed in the violence that followed the murder of original leader Dean O'Banion.
Several factors contributed to the timing of the plan to kill Moran. Earlier in the year, North Sider Frank Gusenberg and his brother Peter unsuccessfully attempted to murder Jack McGurn. The North Side Gang was complicit in the murders of Pasqualino "Patsy" Lolordo and Antonio "The Scourge" Lombardo. Both had been presidents of the Unione Siciliana, the local Mafia, and close associates of Capone. Moran and Capone had been vying for control of the lucrative Chicago bootlegging trade. Moran had also been muscling in on a Capone-run dog track in the Chicago suburbs, and he had taken over several saloons that were run by Capone, insisting that they were in his territory.
The plan was to lure Moran to the SMC Cartage warehouse on North Clark Street on February 14, 1929 to kill him and perhaps two or three of his lieutenants. It is usually assumed that the North Siders were lured to the garage with the promise of a stolen, cut-rate shipment of whiskey, supplied by Detroit's Purple Gang which was associated with Capone. The Gusenberg brothers were supposed to drive two empty trucks to Detroit that day to pick up two loads of stolen Canadian whiskey. All of the victims were dressed in their best clothes, with the exception of John May, as was customary for the North Siders and other gangsters at the time.
Most of the Moran gang arrived at the warehouse by approximately 10:30 a.m., but Moran was not there, having left his Parkway Hotel apartment late. He and fellow gang member Ted Newberry approached the rear of the warehouse from a side street when they saw a police car approaching the building. They immediately turned and retraced their steps, going to a nearby coffee shop. They encountered gang member Henry Gusenberg on the street and warned him, so he too turned back. North Side Gang member Willie Marks also spotted the police car on his way to the garage, and he ducked into a doorway and jotted down the license number before leaving the neighborhood.
Capone's lookouts likely mistook one of Moran's men for Moran himself, probably Albert Weinshank, who was the same height and build. The physical similarity between the two men was enhanced by their dress that morning; both happened to be wearing the same color overcoats and hats. Witnesses outside the garage saw a Cadillac sedan pull up to a stop in front of the garage. Four men emerged and walked inside, two of them dressed in police uniform. The two fake police officers carried shotguns and entered the rear portion of the garage, where they found members of Moran's gang and collaborators Reinhart Schwimmer and John May, who was fixing one of the trucks. The fake policemen then ordered the men to line up against the wall. They then signaled to the pair in civilian clothes who had accompanied them. Two of the killers opened fire with Thompson sub-machine guns, one with a 20-round box magazine and the other a 50-round drum. They were thorough, spraying their victims left and right, even continuing to fire after all seven had hit the floor. Two shotgun blasts afterward all but obliterated the faces of John May and James Clark, according to the coroner's report.
To give the appearance that everything was under control, the men in street clothes came out with their hands up, prodded by the two uniformed policemen. Inside the garage, the only survivors in the warehouse were May's dog "Highball" and Frank Gusenberg — despite 14 bullet wounds. He was still conscious, but he died three hours later, refusing to utter a word about the identities of the killers. The Valentine's Day Massacre set off a public outcry which posed a problem for all mob bosses.
Peter Gusenberg, a front-line enforcer for the Moran organizations
Frank Gusenberg, the brother of Peter Gusenberg and also an enforcer
Albert Kachellek (alias "James Clark"), Moran's second in command
Adam Heyer, the bookkeeper and business manager of the Moran gang
Reinhardt Schwimmer, an optician who had abandoned his practice to gamble on horse racing and associate with the gang
Albert Weinshank, who managed several cleaning and dyeing operations for Moran; his resemblance to Moran is allegedly what set the massacre in motion before Moran arrived, including the clothes that he was wearing
John May, an occasional car mechanic for the Moran gang
Within days, Capone received a summons to testify before a Chicago grand jury on charges of federal Prohibition violations, but he claimed to be too unwell to attend.
It was common knowledge that Moran was hijacking Capone's Detroit-based liquor shipments, and police focused their attention on Detroit's predominantly Jewish Purple Gang. Landladies Mrs. Doody and Mrs. Orvidson had taken in three men as roomers ten days before the massacre, and their rooming houses were directly across the street from the North Clark Street garage. They picked out mugshots of Purple Gang members George Lewis, Eddie Fletcher, Phil Keywell, and his younger brother Harry, but they later wavered in their identification. The police questioned and cleared Fletcher, Lewis, and Harry Keywell. Nevertheless, the Keywell brothers (and by extension the Purple Gang) remained associated with the crime in the years that followed. Many also believed that the police were involved, which may have been the intention of the killers.
On February 22, police were called to the scene of a garage fire on Wood Street where they found a 1927 Cadillac sedan disassembled and partially burned, and they determined that the killers had used the car. They traced the engine number to a Michigan Avenue dealer who had sold the car to a James Morton of Los Angeles. The garage had been rented by a man calling himself Frank Rogers, who gave his address as 1859 West North Avenue. This was the address of the Circus Café operated by Claude Maddox, a former St. Louis gangster with ties to the Capone gang, the Purple Gang, and the St. Louis gang, Egan's Rats. Police could not turn up any information about persons named James Morton or Frank Rogers, but they had a definite lead on one of the killers. Just minutes before the killings, a truck driver named Elmer Lewis had turned a corner a block away from 2122 North Clark and sideswiped a police car. He told police that he stopped immediately but was waved away by the uniformed driver, who was missing a front tooth. Board of Education president H. Wallace Caldwell had witnessed the accident, and he gave the same description of the driver. Police were confident that they were describing Fred Burke, a former member of Egan's Rats. Burke and a close companion named James Ray were known to wear police uniforms whenever on a robbery spree. Burke was also a fugitive, under indictment for robbery and murder in Ohio. Police also suggested that Joseph Lolordo could have been one of the killers because of his brother Pasqualino's recent murder by the North Side Gang.
Police then announced that they suspected Capone gunmen John Scalise and Albert Anselmi, as well as Jack McGurn and Frank Rio, a Capone bodyguard. Police eventually charged McGurn and Scalise with the massacre. Capone murdered John Scalise, Anselmi, and Joseph "Hop Toad" Giunta in May 1929 after he learned about their plan to kill him. The police dropped the murder charges against Jack McGurn because of a lack of evidence, and he was just charged with a violation of the Mann Act; he took his girlfriend Louise Rolfe across state lines to marry.
The case stagnated until December 14, 1929, when the Berrien County, Michigan Sheriff's Department raided the St. Joseph, Michigan bungalow of "Frederick Dane", the registered owner of a vehicle driven by Fred "Killer" Burke. Burke had been drinking that night, then rear-ended another vehicle and drove off. Patrolman Charles Skelly pursued, finally forcing him off the road. Skelly hopped onto the running board of Burke's car, but he was shot three times and died of his wounds that night. The car was found wrecked and abandoned just outside St. Joseph and traced to Fred Dane. By this time, police photos confirmed that Dane was in fact Fred Burke, wanted by the Chicago police for his participation in the St. Valentine's Day Massacre.
Police raided Burke's bungalow and found a large trunk containing a bullet-proof vest, almost $320,000 in bonds recently stolen from a Wisconsin bank, two Thompson submachine guns, pistols, two shotguns, and thousands of rounds of ammunition. St. Joseph authorities immediately notified the Chicago police, who requested both machine guns. They used the new science of forensic ballistics to identify both weapons as those used in the massacre. They also discovered that one of them had also been used to murder New York mobster Frankie Yale a year and a half earlier. Unfortunately, no further concrete evidence surfaced in the massacre case. Burke was captured over a year later on a Missouri farm. The case against him was strongest in connection to the murder of Officer Skelly, so he was tried in Michigan and subsequently sentenced to life imprisonment. He died in prison in 1940.
On January 8, 1935, FBI agents surrounded a Chicago apartment building at 3920 North Pine Grove looking for the remaining members of the Barker Gang. A brief shootout erupted, resulting in the death of bank robber Russell Gibson. Taken into custody were Doc Barker, Byron Bolton, and two women. Bolton was a Navy machine-gunner and associate of Egan's Rats, and he had been the valet of Chicago hit man Fred Goetz. Bolton was privy to many of the Barker Gang's crimes and pinpointed the Florida hideout of Ma Barker and Freddie Barker, both of whom were killed in a shootout with the FBI a week later. Bolton claimed to have taken part in the St. Valentine's Day Massacre with Goetz, Fred Burke, and several others.
The FBI had no jurisdiction in a state murder case, so they kept Bolton's revelations confidential until the Chicago American newspaper reported a second-hand version of his confession. The newspaper declared that the crime had been "solved", despite being stonewalled by J. Edgar Hoover and the FBI, who did not want any part of the massacre case. Garbled versions of Bolton's story went out in the national media. Bolton, it was reported,[where?] claimed that the murder of Bugs Moran had been plotted in October or November 1928 at a Couderay, Wisconsin resort owned by Fred Goetz. Present at this meeting were Goetz, Al Capone, Frank Nitti, Fred Burke, Gus Winkler, Louis Campagna, Daniel Serritella, William Pacelli, and Bolton. The men stayed two or three weeks, hunting and fishing when they were not planning the murder of their enemies.
Bolton claimed that he and Jimmy Moran were charged with watching the S.M.C. Cartage garage and phoning the signal to the killers at the Circus Café when Bugs Moran arrived at the meeting. Police had found a letter addressed to Bolton in the lookout nest (and possibly a vial of prescription medicine). Bolton guessed that the actual killers had been Burke, Winkeler, Goetz, Bob Carey, Raymond "Crane Neck" Nugent, and Claude Maddox (four shooters and two getaway drivers). Bolton gave an account of the massacre different from the one generally told by historians. He claimed that he saw only "plainclothes" men exit the Cadillac and go into the garage. This indicates that a second car was used by the killers. George Brichet claimed to have seen at least two uniformed men exiting a car in the alley and entering the garage through its rear doors. A Peerless Motor Company sedan had been found near a Maywood house owned by Claude Maddox in the days after the massacre, and in one of the pockets was an address book belonging to victim Albert Weinshank. Bolton said that he had mistaken one of Moran's men to be Moran, after which he telephoned the signal to the Circus Café. The killers had expected to kill Moran and two or three of his men, but they were unexpectedly confronted with seven men; they simply decided to kill them all and get out fast. Bolton claimed that Capone was furious with him for his mistake and the resulting police pressure and threatened to kill him, only to be dissuaded by Fred Goetz.
His claims were corroborated by Gus Winkeler's widow Georgette in an official FBI statement and in her memoirs, which were published in a four-part series in a true detective magazine during the winter of 1935–36. She revealed that her husband and his friends had formed a special crew used by Capone for high-risk jobs. The mob boss was said to have trusted them implicitly and nicknamed them the "American Boys". Bolton's statements were also backed up by William Drury, a Chicago detective who had stayed on the massacre case long after everyone else had given up. Bank robber Alvin Karpis later claimed to have heard secondhand from Ray Nugent about the massacre and that the "American Boys" were paid a collective salary of $2,000 a week plus bonuses. Karpis also claimed that Capone had told him while they were in Alcatraz together that Goetz had been the actual planner of the massacre.
Despite Byron Bolton's statements, no action was taken by the FBI. All the men whom he named were dead by 1935, with the exception of Burke and Maddox. Bank robber Harvey Bailey complained in his 1973 autobiography that he and Fred Burke had been drinking beer in Calumet City, Illinois at the time of the massacre, and the resulting heat forced them to abandon their bank robbing ventures. Historians are still divided on whether or not the "American Boys" committed the St. Valentine's Day Massacre.
Many mobsters have been named as part of the Valentine's Day hit team. Two prime suspects are Cosa Nostra hit men John Scalise and Albert Anselmi. In the days after the massacre, Scalise was heard[by whom?] to brag, "I am the most powerful man in Chicago." Unione Siciliana president Joseph Guinta had recently elevated him to the position of the Unione's vice-president. Nevertheless, Scalise, Anselmi, and Guinta were found dead on a lonely road near Hammond, Indiana on May 8, 1929. Gangland lore has it that Capone had discovered that the pair were planning to betray him. Legend states[where?] that Capone produced a baseball bat at the climax of a dinner party thrown in their honor and beat the trio to death.
Police tested the two Thompson submachine guns (serial numbers 2347 and 7580) found in Fred Burke's Michigan bungalow and determined that both had been used in the massacre. One of them had also been used in the murder of Brooklyn mob boss Frankie Yale, which confirmed the New York Police Department's long-held theory that Burke had been responsible for Yale's death.
Les Farmer, a deputy sheriff in Marion, Illinois, purchased gun number 2347 on November 12, 1924. Marion and the surrounding area were overrun by the warring bootleg factions of the Shelton Brothers Gang and Charlie Birger. Farmer had ties with Egan's Rats, based 100 miles away in St. Louis, and the weapon had wound up in Fred Burke's possession by 1927. It is possible that he used this same gun in Detroit's Milaflores Massacre on March 28, 1927. Chicago sporting goods owner Peter von Frantzius sold gun number 7580 to a Victor Thompson, also known as Frank V. Thompson, but it wound up with James "Bozo" Shupe, a small-time hood from Chicago's West Side who had ties to various members of Capone's outfit. Both guns are still in the possession of the Berrien County, Michigan Sheriff's Department.