This I Have Learned … Valentine’s Day and the Odd History of February 14

Mary Jo Bellner Swartzberg

Perhaps we all remember when, in elementary school, we received Valentines from friends. And we absolutely knew that receiving a Valentine meant you were special. Perhaps times have not changed … as, even now, receiving a Valentine does carry with it a sense of … I was thought of today.

Receiving and giving Valentines notwithstanding, most people are not aware that the date of Feb. 14 carries with it a number of historical events. To wit:

* The details of this event have pretty much been lost to history, but at the time, this event sent the Prohibition Era in America on its heels. On Feb. 14, 1923, four gangsters raided and opened fire on the members of the Bugs Moran mob. The raid mimicked a police raid, and suspicions were that the event was orchestrated by Al Capone, a rival of Bugs. Seven gangsters were killed in a “shower of bullets.” Since that time, the event has been known as the St. Valentine’s Day Massacre.

* Jimmy Hoffa, noted American Labor Leader, was born on Feb. 14, 1913, in Indiana. Long regarded as having connections with organized crime, in 1967 Hoffa went to federal prison for a 13-year sentence for jury tampering, fraud, and conspiracy. While Nixon commuted Hoffa’s sentence in 1971 with the stipulation that Hoffa could not have any union-related activities until 1980, it was believed that Hoffa covertly continued his union activities. But we all know how this story ends. Disappearing from a Detroit restaurant in 1975, Hoffa was never seen nor heard from again. Perhaps he should have stayed in prison!

* On Feb. 14, 1876, Alexander Graham Bell applied for a patent for the first practical telephone. Both Bell’s mother and wife were deaf, which largely influenced his body of work throughout his lifetime. Interestingly, he attended Royal High School in Edinburgh, Scotland, but left at age 15. His school record shows that he had lackluster grades and was undistinguished because of his grades and absenteeism. Bell had more than 18 patents for his work in communications and for his inventions.

* Captain James Cook, the British explorer, was killed on Feb. 14, 1779. Cook was a cartographer, navigator, and a captain in the British Royal Navy. He made three notable voyages between 1768 and 1779 in the Pacific Ocean region, and to New Zealand and Australia in particular. He is credited with the first European contact (recorded) with the Hawaiian Islands, the eastern coastline of Australia, and with the circumnavigation (recorded) of New Zealand. Unfortunately, tensions were high, and a number of disagreements occurred between the Hawaiians and Europeans, which led to the death of Cook and four of his Marines.

* On Feb. 14, 1859, Oregon became a state.

* On Feb. 14, 1912, Arizona became a state.

“One word frees us of all the weight and pain of life: That word is love.” —Sophocles