General

At the heart of the St. Valentine’s Day Massacre

massacreFrom the Saturday, Feb. 15, editions of The Daily Journal (Kankakee, Ill.) and The Times (Ottawa, Ill.) …

The WISCH LIST

By Dave Wischnowsky

Like anywhere, it’s about red roses, boxes of chocolates and romantic dinners at restaurants probably charging a mark-up because, well, it’s Feb. 14.

But in Chicago, Valentine’s Day is about something else, too.

And it’s far from heart warming.

On Feb. 14, 1929, the St. Valentine’s Day Massacre took place inside a brick garage on Chicago’s North Side. Considered the most notorious gangster killing of the Prohibition era, the incident left seven men dead and made Al Capone a national celebrity, while also bringing the unwanted attention of federal authorities upon him.

And here, eighty-five years and one day removed from the infamous event, are some things you might not know about the St. Valentine’s Day Massacre.

Bugs out

Ushered in by the passage of the 18th Amendment in 1920, Prohibition had much more success in making America’s gangsters rich than in making its citizens sober.

Mainly through bootlegging and speakeasies, Capone was said to have amassed a personal net worth of $100 million by 1927. And when 1929 rolled around, his only real threat to Chicago’s crime boss mantle was Irish mobster George “Bugs” Moran. At about 10:30 a.m. on Feb. 14, 1929, Moran was supposed to be inside the SMC Cartage Co. garage at 2122 N. Clark St. that he used for his illegal business.

But he overslept.

And so when four unknown men rushed into the garage – two of them masquerading as police officers – seven of Moran’s associates were lined against the wall and killed, but he wasn’t among them.

He said, he said

Moran reportedly missed being killed inside the garage by just minutes and a few days afterward, he told reporters, “Only Capone kills like that.”

Reached at his Florida home – which offered him an air-tight alibi for the killings – Capone offered up a countering opinion saying, “They only man who kills like that is Bugs Moran.”

A blind eye

Some 70 rounds of ammunition were fired into the group of men, but when authorities arrived they found one of them – Moran lieutenant Frank Gusenberg – still alive despite having suffered 22 wounds by 14 bullets.

Gusenberg was taken the Hospital, where he was asked by police who shot him. Still observing the gangland principle of “omertà” (absolute silence) despite his mortal wounds, he replied, “Nobody shot me.”

Déjà vu all over again

Over the years, Capone consolidated his control in Chicago with many ruthless killings. During 1929, the bloodshed peaked with 64 gang-related murders, up from 16 in 1924.

Even for a city that had been numbed by the gang warfare of the “Roaring ’20s,” the St. Valentine’s Day Massacre was shocking and prompted the Chicago Tribune to editorialize that “These murders went out of the comprehension of a civilized city. The butchering of seven men by open daylight raises this question for Chicago: Is it helpless?”

Sadly, that sounds a lot like the questions Chicago is asking today about relentless gang-related shootings on the South and West sides.

Wall of fame

The garage where the massacre took place no longer exists, but many of the bricks from its wall still do.

In the late 1960s, Canadian businessman George Patey purchased the 414 bullet-marked bricks, intending to use them in a restaurant. He instead ended up re-creating the wall in a wax museum before later touring malls and exhibitions across the U.S.

Eventually, the bricks were installed in the men’s washroom of a Vancouver nightclub and shielded with Plexiglass, which featured targets for, well, you know. Today, the surviving bricks are on display at the Mob Museum in Las Vegas, which conveniently opened on Feb. 14, 2012.