The Darker Side of Valentine’s Day

Today, February 14th, is the day we associate with love. Thousands of people around the world send or receive sentimental or humorous greetings cards from their sweethearts, friends, or family members.  But, not wishing to bring you down, let’s for a moment investigate the darker side connected to this date!

Two particularly disturbing things also occurred on the same date in history. The first in the Hawaiian Islands in 1779, concerning the death of the famous Captain Cook and the other in Chicago in1929, concerning the infamous Al Capone.

On February 14th, 1779, the Sandwich Islands (today known as Hawaii), a screaming, angry mob of natives began throwing stones at a handful of British Marines who had landed there and were trying to ward off the attack with bayonets and musket-butts.  Two warning shots were then fired, the second of which inadvertently killed one of the natives.  More shots were fired by the English in boats moored offshore, and their leader, Captain James Cook, turned to order them to stop firing.  He was then attacked from behind, stabbed violently in the back, and fell to the ground. He was immediately descended upon by the frenzied natives all anxious to place their own knives into his already lifeless body lying face down in the water.

How could such a violent end come to a man who was once honoured and revered around the world and whose death caused national mourning?  He remains one of the greatest of British naval heroes, having made enormous contributions in opening up the Pacific Ocean and changing the map of the world, but even more recently in 2022 his statue in Victoria Harbour was torn down by protestors on Canada Day who believe him to be an evil part of colonialism. 


The second act of violence on St. Valentine’s Day happened in 1929 and was the result of what has been described as “the most spectacular mob hit in gangland history”. It took place at 2122 North Clark Street, Chicago, a red brick warehouse structure, when a group of seven gangsters gathered there awaiting the arrival of a truck carrying hijacked whiskey.  One of the men was ex-safecracker, Johnny May, who had been hired by George “Bugs” Moran as an auto mechanic. Others were Frank and Pete Gusenberg, James Clark (Moran’s brother-in-law), Adam Heyer, Al Winshank, and Reinhardt Schwimmer, an optometrist who had befriended Moran just “for the thrill of being around gangsters.”  Moran was late for the meeting when suddenly a police car arrived carrying five men, three of whom were in bogus police uniforms.

The “policemen” entered the building and a few moments later machine gun fire was heard.  The five men then exited the building and drove away. Moran’s men had been lined up against a wall and sprayed with machine-gun fire, killing all seven.  It became known as the St. Valentine’s Day Massacre. They did not, however, kill Moran who had spotted the police car outside and decided to not enter the building. These violent murders depleted Moran’s gang power in Chicago, and he correctly assumed it to be the work of his rival, Al Capone.  The violence of this particular crime, however, was perhaps also the beginning of the downfall of Capone.  Even those who had previously seen some kind of warped glory in his power, saw this act as one of absolute horror.  The days of the gangsters in Chicago were numbered.

And let’s not forget that even the roots of Valentine’s Day stem from a bloody pagan fertility festival dating back to the 6th century B.C, when between February 13 and 15, the Romans celebrated Lupercalia by sacrificing animals and slapping women with their hides – this was believed to make them more fertile before being paired off with men “by lottery.”

It was not until the Middle Ages that Valentine’s Day became romantic, and it was Chaucer who first pointed out that birds begin mating in mid-February and the 14th was then associated with birds (and people) who pair off in the name of love.

So perhaps it is better to forget all the past tragedies connected to this date and instead concentrate on the love spreading around the world today and every February 14th.

HAPPY VALENTINE’S DAY everyone and may your day be full of love and joy.