Whenever February 14 comes around I always spare a thought for prohibition. For it was St Valentine’s Day 1929 when Al Capone’s Gang massacred seven gangsters from a rival group headed by Bugs Moran. It was an over-elaborate plan which would have tested Grissom and Co. The plan was to eliminate Moran but he didn’t turn up. Some say he was just late, while others claim he spotted the fake police car and sat it out in a coffee shop across the road. I guess no one will ever know.
It was awful. The bodies of the seven men were riddled with 70 bullets! Fortunately, Highball, the German Shepherd, was spared. He was found moaning under a beer truck, but otherwise unharmed. I am tempted to blame American beer. The police were astounded at the scene they found – the dog’s moaning rather than the hail of sub-machine gun bullets, had summoned them.
No one was charged with the massacre, but it all basically spelled the end for Capone and Moran. By 1931, Capone was jailed for tax evasion and Moran had been replaced by another gang boss, Frank Nitti. It was the public outrage at the massacre that basically ended Moran’s hold over Chicago. Apparently you can only push people so far. I think it probably annoyed them most because it’s supposed to be a day for lovers, not for executioners. Unless your lover IS an executioner, I suppose.
Interestingly, St Valentine, the saint, had nothing to do with lovers at all. He didn’t deliver chocolates or roses or helium filled balloons. He was one of those Roman martyrs of the third century. In fact, there were two. Maybe. One was a priest, martyred on the Faminian Way, the other a bishop from Terni, killed in Rome. Still, a lot of people claim there was only one and someone, somewhere was confused.
One of them was imprisoned for helping Christians. While in jail, he converted and, amazingly, restored the sight of the blind daughter of his jailer. You’d think everyone would be amazed and happy with this turn of events. You’d also expect a few blind people turning up for the treatment. Instead, St Val was taken out on the road and clubbed to death. Clearly, the Roman’s considered him a danger. You can’t have crazy people curing blindness all over the place when the ruling powers cannot. I mean really!
Anyway, it became an old country custom for sweethearts to chose a partner on his feast day. Odd, because he was especially noted for his chastity. Now, just to leave the myths and joys of the imaginary for a moment. The origins of February 14 being for lovers can be found in a number of places. Birds are meant to pair off on this day. This belief goes back to the 1500s. Even earlier is the Roman Lupercalia festival, which took place on February 15 each year. From what I’ve found, the Lupercalia used to entail naked youths running around in some form of purification rite, engaging in various “pranks and fooleries” (according to Livy). This all seems a bit odd.
Plutarch puts it better. According to him, when these youths ran naked and giggling all over the town, woman would line the streets, hoping to have their outstretched hands slapped by one of them. This was believed to bring on an easy pregnancy or a pregnancy for those that were having a few problems in that area. This could somehow be connected with lovers.
Some say the rite can be traced back through to ancient Greece and certain festivals in honour of Pan and his goat footed cronies. Who knows. Frankly, who cares? Celebrating the clubbing to death of a saint by giving chocolates to your other half is just as insane as believing rabbits lay chocolate eggs. I guess sometimes, Christian’s appropriate things for all the wrong reasons.