Now that it’s Behind Us, Let’s Examine the Violent History of Valentine’s Day

Saturday Evening Post illustrator Edmund F. Ward (1892-1990) completed his own version of the St. Valentine’s Day Massacre. This oil on canvas went to auction in August 2010.

By Jim O’Neal

On Feb. 14, 1929, two uniformed policemen and two men in business suits entered a Chicago-area garage, lined up seven men against a wall and killed them. Two of the men used Thompson machine guns (“Tommy Guns”) and the deceased were members of the George “Bugs” Moran gang.

The two policemen marched the shooters out of the building and witnesses just assumed they were part of a rival gang that had been swiftly apprehended by the “heat.” In fact, all four were part of the Al Capone crew that routinely eliminated local competition.

Due to the date, the gangland killing was quickly dubbed “The St. Valentine’s Day Massacre” and 87 years later, its notoriety still persists. Primarily, this is due to the numerous movies, television shows and books based on the event. My personal favorite is the 1967 film The St. Valentine’s Day Massacre, starring Jason Robards, Bruce Dern, George Segal and John Agar (Shirley Temple’s troubled first husband).

Ironically, the first Valentine also died a violent death on Feb. 14 about 278 AD, during the reign of Roman Emperor Claudius II, who was involved in many unpopular and bloody military campaigns. As a result, he had difficulty recruiting soldiers because of their strong attachment to wives and children.

In a questionable effort to solve this chronic issue, “Claudius the Cruel” banned all wedding engagements in Rome. Valentine (granted sainthood posthumously) defied the emperor and continued performing marriages in secret ceremonies.

When discovered, he was arrested and dragged before the Prefect of Rome, who promptly condemned him to be beaten to death with clubs and then beheaded. Legend has him leaving a note to his jailer’s daughter signed “From your Valentine.”

In truth, there are several legends associated with various Valentines through history. According to the Catholic Encyclopedia, at least three different Valentines, all of them martyrs, are mentioned under the date of Feb. 14; one was a priest in Rome, the second a Bishop of Interamna (now Terni, Italy), and the third Valentine a martyr in the Roman province of Africa.

There is also uncertainty over how the martyrs’ names became connected with romance. However, we do know that Pope Gelasius decided to end pagan festivals of love and declared that Feb. 14 simply be celebrated as St. Valentine’s Day. Gradually, the practice of love letters, poems and flowers found their way back in.

In one final effort in 1969, the Catholic Church discontinued liturgical veneration of him (them?), although the name remains on a list of recognized saints. (Note: I’ve run across a dozen St. V’s and even a Pope Valentine).

An incontrovertible fact is that St. Valentine is the patron saint of beekeepers and epilepsy.

Jim O'Niel Intelligent Collector blogger JIM O’NEAL is an avid collector and history buff. He is President and CEO of Frito-Lay International [retired] and earlier served as Chairman and CEO of PepsiCo Restaurants International [KFC Pizza Hut and Taco Bell].

Custer’s Last Stand Marked the Beginning of the End for American Indian Warriors

This large half-plate ambrotype of George Armstrong Custer was taken circa September 1863 by William Frank Browne. It realized $83,650 at a December 2012 Heritage auction.

By Jim O’Neal

T.J. Stiles’ new book Custer’s Trials: A Life on the Frontier of a New America is being praised for the author’s ability to cut through decades of “revisionist baggage,” change the camera’s angle and examine Custer’s life as actually lived … to better gauge the man, his times and his “larger meaning” (whatever that means).

I’m a skeptic, but since Stiles’ biography on Cornelius Vanderbilt was brilliant (winning the Pulitzer Prize and National Book Award), I will probably Kindle it anyway.

What I know is that on the morning of June 25, 1876, Lieutenant Colonel George Armstrong Custer and 210 members of the 7th Cavalry (including two brothers) were killed by the Lakota Sioux and Northern Cheyenne.

Custer was born in Ohio in 1839, was lucky not to be expelled from West Point (he finished last in his class of 34 cadets) and had a decent career in the Civil War. He was probably indifferent to the issue of slavery and appears to be the type that thrived on war … like so many others of that period.

He undoubtedly loved being called “The Boy General.” With his long, blond hair, he was “the synonym of dashing gallantry and unfaltering fidelity” – at least according to The New York Times.

As a failed business speculator, the war offered him a perfect fit for his ambition and many wondered what he might do if he survived. The answer was quite simple: more war.

But this time, the Plains Indians were aggressively defending the land ceded to them by the Second Treaty of Fort Laramie.

In return for a cessation of attacks against miners and other settlers, the federal government gave the Sioux much of western South Dakota and eastern Wyoming. They also pledged to keep others away from the Sioux’s sacred Paha Sapa, or Black Hills.

However, in 1876 gold was discovered in the Black Hills and soon a hoard of 15,000 miners swarmed the territory. President Grant sent troops to push the Indians farther west and this put the Sioux on a direct collision course with Custer.

The Battle of the Little Big Horn, or “Custer’s Last Stand,” is now legendary, but the larger point is that this single event marked the beginning of the end for the thousands of Sioux warriors involved. In fact, it also included all of the Indian peoples of America.

Following the defeat, public outcry turned Custer into a martyr whose spilt blood had to be avenged. An expanded Army fiercely hounded the great Sioux leader Sitting Bull (he escaped to Canada) and his people. Most of the Sioux surrendered and ended up on reservations.

Within 15 years of Custer’s death, the battles had all faded into legend … waiting patiently to be revived by filmmakers, biographers and blog writers.

Jim O'NielIntelligent Collector blogger JIM O’NEAL is an avid collector and history buff. He is President and CEO of Frito-Lay International [retired] and earlier served as Chairman and CEO of PepsiCo Restaurants International [KFC Pizza Hut and Taco Bell].

After Now-Legendary Ali-Liston Bout, Boxer Turned Down Politics

The gloves that Muhammad Ali and Sonny Liston wore in their 1965 match realized $956,000 at a February 2015 auction.

By Jim O’Neal

In 1960, Cassius Clay won the Olympic Gold Medal in Rome in the light heavyweight division. On this date, Feb. 25 in 1964, he scored a TKO over Sonny Liston and became the undisputed World Heavyweight Champion.

Two days later, he announced he had joined an African-American Muslim group, the Nation of Islam, and became Muhammad Ali.

On May 25, 1965, I agreed to drive three of my friends to the Anaheim, Calif., “Theater in the Round” to see the big-screen TV rematch between Muhammad Ali and Liston. They were fighting in Lewiston, Maine. Traffic was bad and we were running a little late.

I volunteered to get four beers at the concession stand while they secured our seats. The service was also a little slow.


Ali knocked out Liston in the first round (officially 2:12), which is still the fastest in heavyweight championship history. I did not get to see the knockout live, but the replays were interesting and the beer was cold. We may have had a second round.

Later, someone suggested to Liston he should try politics due to his high name recognition. His reply is still one of my favorites: “I would rather be a lamppost in Denver than the mayor of Philadelphia.”

Classic Liston.

Jim O'NielIntelligent Collector blogger JIM O’NEAL is an avid collector and history buff. He is President and CEO of Frito-Lay International [retired] and earlier served as Chairman and CEO of PepsiCo Restaurants International [KFC Pizza Hut and Taco Bell].

Edith Bolling Wilson Played the Role of First Woman President Long Before Hillary

This Wilson & Marshall jugate was offered at a June 2015 auction.

By Jim O’Neal

Former President Bill Clinton often reminded voters that if they voted for him, they would get “two for the price of one” – referring, of course, to Hillary. Little mention was made that Al Gore was included in the deal. One assumes that now Hillary has a similar promise tucked away for the appropriate time.

Quite the opposite was true when Woodrow Wilson won the presidency in 1912. His first choice for VP, House Speaker Oscar Underwood of Alabama, turned him down, and the delegates chose Thomas Riley Marshall, much to Wilson’s dismay.

Later, he treated his VP with disdain, not terribly uncommon, except in this instance, Wilson unfairly branded him an unworthy featherweight – “A small caliber man” … “brought along to deliver Indiana’s electoral votes and little more.”

Once in Washington, Marshall spoke his mind early and often, but quickly saw it was a waste of time. After Wilson literally forced him to move his office out of the White House, he settled into the tedium of his daily chores and practiced keeping his wit sharp as a well-paid public speaker.

However, he soon decided his role as President of the Senate was his primary constitutional duty and devoted most of his time there. Marshall sincerely believed the office of VP was an extension of the legislature as opposed to the executive branch. On March 8, 1917, he led an effort to impose a rule on senators to end filibusters if two-thirds of voting senators agreed. This helped eliminate anti-war efforts to block supplies for Europe.

One exception was when Wilson was in Europe after the United States entered World War I. VP Marshall became the first to hold Cabinet meetings in the absence of the president. But this was short-lived.

After President Wilson was partially paralyzed and without any doubt incapacitated by a second stroke in October 1919, Vice President Marshall should have moved forcefully to assume the presidency.

He had the backing of Secretary of State Robert Lansing, Cabinet members and Congressional leaders. Instead, he allowed the First Lady, Wilson’s personal physician and Wilson’s cronies to conceal the president’s condition in an elaborate cover-up involving seclusion, forged signatures and false health reports.

This button and ribbon shows Woodrow Wilson and First Lady Edith Bolling Wilson.

And so the man who, as governor of Indiana, had personally laid the final “Golden Brick” to complete the Indy 500 Speedway in 1909 contented himself with press reports, senatorial oversight and some of the most scathingly delightful commentaries and one-liners ever uttered about the office of the vice president.

Voters literally got “one for the price of two,” but ironically this did not include either President Wilson or VP Marshall, but Edith Bolling Wilson – the First Lady and Wilson’s second wife.

P.S. Marshall’s only real claim to fame is the phrase “What this country needs is a good 5-cent cigar.” That line actually originated in Kim Hubbard’s comic strip Abe Martin of Brown County. Marshal saw it, repeated it on the Senate floor and myth became history (once again).

Intelligent Collector blogger JIM O’NEAL is an avid collector and history buff. He is President and CEO of Frito-Lay International [retired] and earlier served as Chairman and CEO of PepsiCo Restaurants International [KFC Pizza Hut and Taco Bell].

Nearly 55 Years Ago, Nicklaus Got His Start with an Unspectacular Payday

This gold Rolex wristwatch presented to Jack Nicklaus for his 1980 U.S. Open victory realized $33,460 at an August 2013 Heritage auction.

By Jim O’Neal

On Jan. 8, 1962, a chubby, 21-year-old pro golfer picked up a check for $33.33 after tying for 50th (last place) with Billy Maxwell and Don Massengale in the Los Angeles Open.

The tournament was played at Rancho Park in West Los Angeles.

Thus began the pro career of the best golfer of all time – Jack Nicklaus, who went on to win 18 Major Championships (the record) … six Masters, five PGA, four U.S. Opens and three British Championships (The Open). He also won two U.S. Amateur Championships.

He would go on to win 73 PGA tournaments and 10 on the Champions (Seniors) before retiring in 2005.

His pro winnings were $9,102,462 and in 2004 he was named the Golfer of the Century/Millennium. Golf Magazine named him Golfer of the Century for 1888-1998.

On that sunny day in California in 1962, I had decided to follow Phil Rodgers, who shot 62 (9 under par) and won the tournament by 9 strokes … 21 better than Nicklaus.

Who knew?

P.S. Billy Casper was the first golfer to win more than $200k in one year ($205,168 in 1968). In 2015, caddy Steve Williams earned $1.27 million.

P.P.S. Since the prize money for last place in 1962 was $100 and Maxwell, Massengale and Nicklaus each got $33.33, what happened to the extra cent? Yes, I know it takes a curious mind to think of this, but you have to pay attention to the small things.

Jim O'NielIntelligent Collector blogger JIM O’NEAL is an avid collector and history buff. He is President and CEO of Frito-Lay International [retired] and earlier served as Chairman and CEO of PepsiCo Restaurants International [KFC Pizza Hut and Taco Bell].

As We Pay Tribute to Scalia, Let’s Recall Landmark Appointment Case

After he was defeated in the 1800 presidential election, John Adams retired to Massachusetts as a gentleman farmer. A letter he wrote and signed 13 years later realized $46,875 at an October 2014 Heritage Auction.

By Jim O’Neal

The landmark case known as Marbury vs. Madison arose after the bitter 1800 election when Vice President Thomas Jefferson defeated President John Adams, tied with and Aaron Burr and then eventually won when Alexander Hamilton swung the New York boys to him on the 36th ballot.

A bitter Adams made a last-minute attempt to pack the judiciary with Federalists by appointing 16 new circuit judges and 42 new Justices of the Peace for the District of Columbia. However, four of the new justices, including William Marbury, did not get their commissions before Adams’ last day in office.

Secretary of State James Madison refused to give the four men their commissions, so Marbury asked the Supreme Court to issue a writ of mandamus ordering Madison to do it. This put Chief Justice John Marshall (newly appointed by Adams) in a delicate situation. If the Supremes issued the writ, Madison might simply refuse and the Court had no means to enforce compliance.

Alternatively, if the Court did not, then he was risking surrendering judicial power to Jefferson and his Democratic-Republican Party (later to become the Democratic Party).

Marshall decided there was no middle ground and that left the choice of either declaring the Constitution to be superior and binding, or allowing the legislature to be an entity of unchecked power. Since the nation had established a written Constitution with fundamental principles to bind it in the future, it had to be both superior and binding law. And if the Constitution was the superior law, then an act “repugnant” must be invalid.

The decision was to discharge Marbury’s action because the Court did not have original jurisdiction, and the Judiciary Act of 1789, which Marbury argued was the basis of his petition, was unconstitutional. The Court found the Constitution specifically enumerated cases where the Court had both original and appellate jurisdiction. The Court also concluded a writ of mandamus was unconstitutional and void.

In more recent times, the Court has asserted a broad judicial review power and the role as the ultimate interpreter of the Constitution. Once a law is declared unconstitutional, the courts simply decline to enforce it. Judicial review was once controversial. Even Judge Learned Hand felt it was inconsistent with the separation of power. However, “Marbury” served to make the judiciary equal to the executive and legislative branches.

Most scholars and historians give full credit to Chief Justice Marshall for solidifying this principle of an equal tripartite government structure that has served us well for 200-plus years.

Author Harlow Giles Unger goes even further in his 2014 biography (John Marshall: The Chief Justice who Saved the Nation), where he claims Marshall turned into a bulwark against presidential and congressional tyranny and saved American Democracy.

I tend to disagree since the process for selecting members has been politicized to the point the Court seems to be simply an extension of which party controls the lever of power. I suspect we will have a chance to see this phenomenon several times in the next four to eight years as turnover increases.

Jim O'NielIntelligent Collector blogger JIM O’NEAL is an avid collector and history buff. He is President and CEO of Frito-Lay International [retired] and earlier served as Chairman and CEO of PepsiCo Restaurants International [KFC Pizza Hut and Taco Bell].


‘Black Death’ is a Grim Reminder: Never Trust a Dirty Rat

A Folio Society 1999 edition of Philip Ziegler’s The Black Death went to auction in November 2012.

By Jim O’Neal

In five short years beginning in 1347, one-third of Europe – 25 million people – died of the bubonic plague. Many villages and towns lost 80 percent of their populations. A world that had just emerged from the Dark Ages and was moving into a new era was, suddenly, pockmarked with deserted farms, collapsed churches and zombie-like survivors.

Bubonic plague changed world history and mankind in ways that linger to this day. All subsequent epidemics – small pox, cholera, influenza and AIDS – are grim reminders of the terror of the “Black Death” and the specter of a world strewn with bodies and people defenseless against an invisible killer.

Although it wasn’t known at the time, the cause was a rat flea, Xenopsylla cheopis (X. cheopis), a ravenous creature that lived on black rats and other rodents. X. cheopis carried the virulent plague bacillus and it came in two forms, both deadly to humans.

One was from direct contact via a flea bite, which was followed by a black purple bruising and a mortality rate of 60 percent in as little as five to seven days. The predominant form was pneumonic, which spread from person to person by air, infecting the lungs, with death in two to three days.

It had started deep in Asia, where China was in a war with the Mongols that devastated great swaths of the countryside. Infected rats, no longer able to find food in the forests, headed to populated areas, where the disease spread rapidly.

By the 1330s, China had lost 35 million people out of 125 million. Then X. cheopis began to travel with traders across Mongolia and Central Asia. In 1345, the plague hit the lower Volga River, followed by the Caucasus and Crimea before finally arriving in Italy in the summer of 1347.

The disease arrived in London in November and killed one-third to half of the total population within three days. The population of England and Wales was 6 million people.

After a quiet winter, it sprung up again in 1349, burning through England to Scotland, leaping to Ireland and crossing the sea to Scandinavia. After devastating Moscow in 1852, it exhausted itself on the barren/empty Russian Steppes.

The plague returned in 1362 in numerous, smaller recurrences until the 1600s. Another wave of plague swept through Asia in the 19th century and it was then that the role of both X. cheopis and the Y. pestis bacteria was discovered.

Although the last plague pandemic was contained, hundreds of plague cases are reported each year since X. cheopis still exists in remote wild rodents, perhaps with yet another strategy to plague us. Despite the advent of curative antibiotics, Black Death is still lurking … somewhere.

Do you know what’s in your attic?

Jim O'NielIntelligent Collector blogger JIM O’NEAL is an avid collector and history buff. He is President and CEO of Frito-Lay International [retired] and earlier served as Chairman and CEO of PepsiCo Restaurants International [KFC Pizza Hut and Taco Bell].

Ray Chapman, Burleigh Grimes, Gaylord Perry and the Notorious Spitball

Ray Chapman appears on this 1916 M101-4 Altoona Tribune baseball card.

By Jim O’Neal

In August 1920, Ray Chapman became the first and only baseball fatality when he was hit in the head by a spitball thrown by Carl Mays.

The spitball was officially banned in 1920, but 17 active spitball pitchers were exempted for the balance of their careers. Eight were in the National League and nine in the American League.

The last legal spitball was thrown by Burleigh Grimes of the Pittsburg Pirates on Sept. 10, 1934.

However, the practice continues yet today in a variety of very clever ways, including petroleum jelly and other techniques to mar the surface of the ball. Some use nail files, belt buckles, etc.

Several times these practices have been confirmed after a player retires and recounts his career in baseball articles or biographies.

Perhaps the most famous was Me and the Spitter: An Autobiographical Confession, written by the great pitcher Gaylord Perry, in which he describes his particular tricks.

Perry is the first pitcher to ever win the Cy Young Award in both leagues … 1972 AL Cleveland and 1978 NL San Diego. His record also includes five-time All Star … five-time 20-game winner … 314 games won with 3,534 strikeouts … Hall of Fame in 1991.

Most pitchers are generally poor batters and Perry was particularly inept. In his sophomore year in 1963, his manager Alvin Dark famously predicted, “They will put a man on the moon before he hits a home run.”

On July 20, 1969, one hour after Neil Armstrong landed Apollo 11 on the moon, Gaylord Perry hit a home run.

Jim O'NielIntelligent Collector blogger JIM O’NEAL is an avid collector and history buff. He is President and CEO of Frito-Lay International [retired] and earlier served as Chairman and CEO of PepsiCo Restaurants International [KFC Pizza Hut and Taco Bell].

‘Liberty, Equality, Fraternity’ was Battle Cry of the French Revolution

This note signed by Marie Antoinette realized $7,170 at an October 2006 auction.

By Jim O’Neal

In 1788, France was ruled by a monarchy, aristocracy and clergy who lived in luxury, while many of the commoners starved. The Storming of the Bastille is now celebrated as the heroic uprising that started the French Revolution.

It occurred on July 14, 1789, and symbolizes the liberation from the French Crown’s oppressive reign of poverty and crushing taxes. When the mob broke through the gates of the infamous jail, the garrison capitulated. But the prison was almost empty. Unknown to the attackers, the government had scheduled the building to be demolished and only six prisoners were left in its cells.

Four of the prisoners were forgers and the other two insane.

Earlier, when King Louis XVI had assumed the crown (1794), the country was in a major economic crisis, with a staggering national debt and a tax base that was in decline. The Catholic Church (which owned 10 percent of all land) and the nobility took advantage of tax loopholes, leaving the tax burden to poor urban workers. Apparently, economic inequality is not a new situation.

The incident that sparked the Storming was the dismissal of Finance Minister Jacques Necker, who sympathized with the commoners. At dawn on July 14, they broke into Hôtel des Invalides and captured 28,000 muskets and 10 cannons, but the ammunition had been moved to the Bastille … all 20,000 rounds.

Thus, the Bastille was not only a target for ammunition, it represented a symbol of long-standing autocratic political power and social systems. At 2 p.m., someone opened fire and the mob started pouring in.

Later, as the French Revolution went careening out of control, thousands of nobels were executed on any pretext and eventually King Louis XVI and his wife, Queen Marie (“Let them eat cake”) Antoinette, were executed. This set off shock waves all over Europe and nearby nations feared these wildly progressive ideas would spread like wildfire.

During the next decade, France would be radically transformed as widespread mob violence ruled. This “Reign of Terror” would forever tarnish the ideals of the French Revolution. But yet today, Bastille Day is celebrated annually as the day the French people won their freedom.

Vive la France!

Jim O'NielIntelligent Collector blogger JIM O’NEAL is an avid collector and history buff. He is President and CEO of Frito-Lay International [retired] and earlier served as Chairman and CEO of PepsiCo Restaurants International [KFC Pizza Hut and Taco Bell].

James Garfield Unique Among American Presidents

This autographed James Garfield cabinet card, dated a month before the president’s assassination, realized nearly $4,500 at a June 2010 auction.

By Jim O’Neal

James Garfield was the last of the Log Cabin Presidents (meaning he was born in one), and in 1880 he was simultaneously a member of the House, a senator-elect and the president-elect. He remains the only person to ever have this unique distinction.

However, he had not gone to the 1880 Republican convention seeking the nomination. Instead, his specific intent was to nominate John Sherman, who was President Rutherford B. Hayes’ Secretary of the Treasury. In fact, Garfield made the formal nominating speech and waited while Ulysses S. Grant and James G. Blaine battled it out. After 35 ballots, Garfield himself became the consensus candidate … and then won the election.

Sherman was eager to become president, but after three failed attempts he gave up. His brother was William Tecumseh Sherman, the general who made the famous “March to the Sea” from Atlanta to Savannah in a scorched earth (total war) campaign that was devastating to Georgia and the Confederacy. His telegram to Abraham Lincoln on Dec. 25, 1864 – “I beg to present you as a Christmas gift the City of Savannah …” – was literally the death knell of the Confederacy and ended the Civil War four months later.

General Sherman was far less political than his brother and at the 1884 convention declared if drafted he would not run; if nominated he would not accept; and if elected he would not serve. We still hear variations of this declaration yet today some 130 years later.

P.S. Garfield was ambidextrous and could write Latin with one hand while writing Greek with the other. Since he favored his left, he is considered the first left-handed president.

Intelligent Collector blogger JIM O’NEAL is an avid collector and history buff. He is President and CEO of Frito-Lay International [retired] and earlier served as Chairman and CEO of PepsiCo Restaurants International [KFC Pizza Hut and Taco Bell].