Sparky's Quill: St. Valentine’s Day

The date: February 14, 1929. The place: Lincoln Park, Chicago. A warehouse. The players: The South Side Italian Gang led by Al Capone and the North Side Irish Gang led by Bugs Moran.

It’s a quiet day. Five members of Bug Moran’s North Side Irish gang are walking into a warehouse. They are greeted by four men dressed as Chicago police. They are told to line up against the wall, to be searched. They do as they’re told. Suddenly, there’s a hail of gunfire and all five men fall to the ground. However, after inspecting the bodies they realize that Bugs Moran isn’t among the dead. Al Capone’s plan to assassinate his rival has failed.

Many of the details are still vague and historians are still debating who started what, but they all agree that this is one of the most cold-blooded massacres to happen during the “gangster era.” The ensuing investigation was one of the most corrupted in history, since almost all of the detectives and policemen were under the payroll and influence of Capone or Moran. Other gangs were framed because the police knew exactly why this incident occurred. This was the Prohibition Era, where an ounce of illegal alcohol was worth a pretty penny. Capone made his money shipping illegal drinks to speakeasies and Moran made his by stealing Capone’s shipments and selling them himself. Police eventually charged two of Capone’s men for the massacre, but never went after Capone himself.

As much as I love the hearts and flowers of Valentine’s Day, nothing really beats a good gangster story. Christened the “St. Valentine’s Day Massacre,” it has been one of the more interesting occurrences on this day in history. It sparked the beginning of the end of Capone’s reign as the head honcho in Chicago and the fall of the gangster would soon follow.

There are Valentine’s Day cards to fit anyone’s interests! Photo courtesy Ben Kling There are Valentine’s Day cards to fit anyone’s interests! Photo courtesy Ben Kling

Now I hand it off to the best boyfriend in the world, Tom!

Well now that Holly has depressed y’all with a massacre, I’m here to talk to you about the lovely origins of Valentine’s Day. Every year I hear someone complain that it is a holiday made up by corporations to sucker money from us consumers, but what they don’t know is that Valentine’s Day is a really old holiday. The legend that surrounds Valentine’s Day is that on February 14, 278 a priest named Valentine in Rome was executed because he stood up for marriage. On the day of his execution, he sent his lover a letter signing it “From Your Valentine.” So adorable.

The holiday officially made its debut all the way back in the 5th Century thanks to Pope Gelasius.  It was an effort to Christianize the pagan celebration of Lupercalia. Lupercalia is the Roman god of agriculture (and we know how agriculture just blossoms with love). I’m sure all the florists this week agree. Another fun fact: many of our present day holidays have pagan origins, such as Easter (bunny and eggs are beginning to make more sense now), Christmas (winter solstice), Groundhog Day and Halloween.

During medieval times, greetings started to become popular. February 14 started to be associated with love and romance. As the centuries passed, it became a regular occurrence to write to your sweetheart on February 14. So all you couples out there, be cheesy and adorable for the sake of history!

In case you were wondering, Holly and I will be fighting epic laser tag battles on the 14th for our cheesy Valentine’s date. Maybe we will see you on the battlefield!


Want to know more about Valentine’s Day? Have a burning historical question? Drop us a line at or find us on Twitter @sparkysquill.

Get the best of State Press delivered straight to your inbox.