Richard Lindberg, Chicago author and historian, talks some of the most tragic and life-altering events in Chicago’s history, such as the St. Valentine’s Day Massacre of 1929. Check out a preview of the full story to be in the print edition of Echo Magazine.
Zoë: Can you talk to me about the St. Valentine’s Day Massacre? Also, how did it effect Chicago?
Richard: St. Valentine’s Day Massacre was the climax to a 10-year era in Chicago and nationwide of unchecked lawlessness and it completely invalidated the whole prohibition movement. It indirectly contributed to the repeal of prohibition four years later.
The thing is, in Chicago with this event, just as we have gang violence today, it mostly impacts people in neighborhoods in the city. Many people say, ‘Well, if it’s gangbangers shooting gangbangers…’ The same attitude applied back in the 1920s, the gangsters were killing each other and it didn’t have a huge impact on the daily lives of Chicagoans—people who went to work and raised their children, they were minimally affected by the mayhem in the streets.
The mayhem in the streets and the shootings, particularly the St. Valentine’s Day Massacre, really altered and created a mindset in Washington D.C. in the federal government that the nation was running amuck. As a result of the seven men being massacred at 2122 N. Clark St. in 1929, the government created what they called the Wickershams commission to investigate wholesale violence, the root cause of controlled territories for bootlegging rights and the issues that surrounded it, including the corruption and insubordination of police and elected officials, protection of vice rackets, the infiltration of the mob into labor unions—all of these were tangential issues that really came out of this one decisive crime.
In 1929, you simply did not see a crime of this magnitude where seven people were lined up against a wall and shot, not to say that this kind of thing didn’t happen in history, but for Chicago, it was a new kind of crime. Today, we’re numbed by all the shooting in malls and movie theaters, and we’re talking about the wholesale slaughter of 20, 30, 40 people, this kind of thing touches our conscious deeply in the same way the St. Valentine’s Day Massacre touched the mindset of people in Chicago. It was so blatant, so outrageous, and what it did was it altered the perception of Chicago in the minds of people of the world. It cemented Chicago’s reputation as a city of unchecked violence when people even today think of Chicago that do not live here and live in Europe and around the world, they’ll say Chicago, Al Capone, ratta-tat-tat, that is the lasting impact of the massacre happening in Chicago and the world’s perception of our city. The problem is exacerbated by of course the violence we’re seeing in gang turf neighborhoods of Chicago.
The four men who committed the St. Valentine’s Day Massacre were never identified conclusively, but they were said to have worked for Al Capone who was trying to seize control of Chicago from George “Bugs” Moran. Seven of Moran’s associates were the ones killed in the massacre.
Photo courtesy of Library of Congress, Prints & Photographs Division.