To most of us, February 14 is a day of romance, relationships and love. But there are plenty of times throughout history when Valentine’s Day had nothing to do with affairs of the heart. These five Valentine’s Days will forever be remembered for reasons that are quite the opposite of why we celebrate Valentine’s today.
1. 1929’s St. Valentine’s Day Massacre
On the morning of February 14, 1929, seven members of Chicago’s North Side Gang lined up to face the wall of a garage at 2122 North Clark Street in Lincoln Park on Chicago’s North Side. At least four men with submachine guns stood behind them. Shots rang out, and the seven men met their bloody end.
The incident, which has come to be known as the St. Valentine’s Day Massacre, was meant to cement the kingpin status of one Al Capone. Although never proven conclusively, it is widely suspected the triggermen were former members of the Egan’s Rats gang, who had been acting on orders from Capone himself since their former leader’s death. Capone’s Italian South Side organization had been feuding with George “Bugs” Moran’s Irish North Side Gang over control of the bootlegging operation in Chicago. In the leadup to the massacre, Moran had been making increasingly aggressive moves against Capone, murdering two of his close associates and taking over several of his underground saloons.
The garage at 2122 North Clark Street was a meeting point for the North Side Gang, and Capone’s plan was to have Moran nabbed on the way in and then executed, along with his henchmen. Unfortunately for Capone, Moran was late to the meeting, and upon spotting police cars at the garage ducked out of sight and hence evaded assassination.
It was widely believed that the Chicago Police Department had a hand in helping Capone stage the killings, as they were also seeking revenge on the North Side Gang for the murder of a police officer’s son. Several eyewitnesses reported seeing two men dressed as plainclothes officers leading two shooters from the garage after the massacre. Soon, it became clear that the two “officers” had been involved in the shooting and had taken the other two away to make it seem as though the criminals had been apprehended. It is unknown whether the men in uniform were actual police or additional Egan’s Rats boys in disguise.
Interestingly, when authorities did arrive at the scene after the shooting, they found a lone survivor among the seven victims–a North Side Gang enforcer, Frank Gusenberg. When police took Gusenberg’s bullet-riddled body to the hospital, he was put into emergency surgery to attempt to flow the blood from his 14 bullet wounds. Before undergoing surgery, police asked Gusenberg who shot him. His reply: “No one shot me.” Gusenberg then died on the operating table.
In the subsequent years, rumors swirled over exactly who was responsible for the St. Valentine’s Day Massacre. Several alleged shooters were themselves found murdered, and one man—Fred Burke, confessed to the crime, though there wasn’t enough evidence to charge him with the slayings. Although not the deadliest day you’ll find listed here, February 14, 1929 went down in history as a very bloody Valentine’s.
2. 1931’s Release of Dracula
It may be hard to believe, given Hollywood’s penchant for horror and supernatural films, but there was a time when the genre wasn’t considered financially viable. 1931’s Dracula, starring Bela Lugosi as the titular vampire, changed all of that.
The film was a major gamble by Universal Studios, as it was the first serious attempt at a full-length Supernatural thriller. After reports of audience members fainting during its initial premiere at the Roxy Theater in New York City (the accuracy of those reports has since come into question–yet it wouldn’t be the last time a studio used an audience's reaction to a horror film as a promotional device), the film went onto net the studio $700,000–becoming the most profitable of the year for Universal.
Of course, Dracula went on to spawn countless remakes and incarnations, and inspired a bevy of franchises such as Frankenstein, released later that same year, 1932’s The Mummy, and 1941’s The Wolf Man, all of which turned Universal Studios into a pioneer of the horror genre; a reputation the studio continues to profit from to this day
3. 1945’s Firebombing of Dresden
The eve of Valentine’s Day in 1945 marked the beginning of a 48-hour bombing campaign by combined U.S. and British forces over the city of Dresden, Germany. Four separate raids saw 1,250 bombers drop nearly 4,000 tons of explosives, killing an estimated 25,000 people and engulfing over 1,600 acres of the city center in fire and ruin.
Since the end of WWII, the firebombing of Dresden has become a symbol of alleged overreach by the Allied Powers in their dogged attempt at crushing Nazi Germany. Many claim the scale of the bombing was disproportionate to the strategic significance of the city, while still others claim the entire raid itself was unnecessary. Allied commanders have defended the attack, noting that Dresden contained a major rail transport and communication center, and was a hub of manufacturing for the German war effort, with 110 factories and 50,000 workers located there.
Yet many British and American intellectuals decried the attacks on German cities, claiming the aerial bombardments of cultural centers were unnecessary for victory. Some even did so while the war was still raging, and Dresden became a symbol of indiscriminate Allied attacks on Germany. It’s also worth noting that many of the bombers missed their targets, some accidentally bombing Prague and other Czech cities due to poor weather conditions which obscured their views.
After the war, British Prime Minister Winston Churchill at first defended the Dresden attack, saying the operation was undertaken to hamper German troop and equipment movement east, which would aid the Soviets in their assault on Germany and therefore shorten the war. However, as more inquiries were made, allegations arose that the Allies bombed Dresden merely to distract German forces from a potential attack on Berlin, as well as to lower morale and support for the war amongst the German population. Churchill subsequently began to distance himself from the firebombing of Dresden, openly questioning whether such tactics are worth undertaking.
To quote Churchill: “The destruction of Dresden remains a serious query against the conduct of Allied bombing. I am of the opinion that military objectives must henceforward be more strictly studied in our own interests than that of the enemy.”
The debate about the Dresden firebombing rages on to this day. Some look back and say it was unjustified, while others point to the horrors inflicted by Nazi Germany and claim that any justification–even one as minimal as reducing the German population’s support for the war–is warranted. In the end, the moral conundrum remains. Yet one thing is for certain: On February 14, 1945, there was no love in the skies over Dresden, Germany.
4. 1951’s “Other” St. Valentine’s Day Massacre
Yes, there were actually two St. Valentine’s Day massacres in the 20th century. While the latter was far less vicious than Al Capone’s contract killing, it was still a violent, bloody affair—and one that took place on national television, no less.
We’re talking about the famous boxing match between “Sugar” Ray Robinson and Jake LaMotta. Robinson is widely considered to be the greatest boxer of all time (yes, even greater than Muhammad Ali), and if the name Jake LaMotta rings a bell, that’s because he’s the titular character in Martin Scorsese’s classic 1980 film, Raging Bull.
“I fought Sugar Ray so often I almost got diabetes,” the clever LaMotta once quipped. Indeed, this was their sixth and final fight, and became an instant classic that has gone down as one of the greatest fights in boxing history.
At the pinnacle of his career, Sugar Ray Robinson was 128-1, with 2 draws. That one loss on his record? Jake LaMotta. LaMotta won a decision in their second bout, which took place in 1943. However, Robinson won five of their six total fights, including the infamous St. Valentine’s Day Massacre, which took place at Chicago Stadium for the world middleweight title. The fight was given that moniker in homage to the bloody attack by Al Capone in the very same city 22 years prior.
Although LaMotta was the aggressor early in the fight, Sugar Ray danced around him, forcing the overweight LaMotta to expend energy. Ray was using the rope-a-dope technique 23 years before Ali made the term famous in his fight against George Foreman. By the later rounds, LaMotta was exhausted, and Sugar Ray pummeled him with a barrage of blows. The pounding was so vicious that fans can be heard shrieking from the stands on video. The famously tough LaMotta somehow managed to stay on his feet, even taunting his opponent with the words, “You can’t put me down, Ray”—a line later made famous by Robert De Niro in Raging Bull.
The referee eventually stepped in to stop the carnage, and Sugar Ray captured LaMotta’s middleweight title. Later, Sugar Ray would refer to LaMotta as the toughest fighter he ever fought (and he fought over 200 professional matches). LaMotta, for his part, has managed to retain his famous sense of humor when looking back on the fight that defined his career: “If the referee had held up another 30 more seconds, Sugar Ray would have collapsed from hitting me.”
5. 1989’s Fatwā Against Salman Rushdie
Here’s a Valentine’s Day card you don't want to get.
February 14, 1989 was the day that Iranian leader Ayatollah Khomeini issued a fatwa against author Salman Rushdie over his book, The Satanic Verses. The Ayatollah claimed that the novel’s reference to a legend that Mohammad spoke verses brought to him by the devil constituted religious blasphemy. A fatwa is essentially an order to kill, and so Rushdie was forced into hiding for nearly a decade.
Ironically, the Ayatollah’s fatwa had the opposite of its intended effect. Not only was Rushdie never assassinated (though not for lack of trying, as he survived several attempts), but his fame skyrocketed after the fatwa was issued. The book would have likely only merited notice amongst the literary world where Rushdie had achieved minor fame, had the Ayatollah not declared it so heretical that its author was deserving of death. Unfortunately, the Japanese translator of the book, Hitoshi Igarashi, was attacked and murdered because of the Ayatollah’s fatwa. His killer has never been identified.
Salman Rushdie went on to achieve pop culture fame as a result of the fatwa placed on him. He has since come out of hiding, appearing on TV shows such as Real Time with Bill Maher. The fatwa on Rushdie remains in place—and will for the rest of his life, since a fatwa can only be repealed by the person who issued it. Ayatollah Khomeini died in 1989, just a few months after issuing the fatwa. In 2016, Iran even raised the bounty on Rushdie’s head by $600,000, to a total of $3.4 million.
So the next time you’re complaining that no one is thinking about you on Valentine’s Day, remember February 14th, 1989. Valentine’s isn’t always about romance.
Featured photo of Dresden after the bombing: Wikimedia Commons