Today in 1929 four men dressed as police officers entered gangster Bugs Moran’s headquarters at Chicago, lined seven of Moran’s henchmen against a wall, and shot them to death. The St. Valentine’s Day Massacre was the culmination of a gang war between arch rivals Al Capone and Bugs Moran.
Americans were shocked and outraged by the cold-blooded Valentine’s Day killings, and many questioned whether the sin of intemperance outweighed the evil of Prohibition-era gangsters like Capone. Although he had an air-tight alibi, few doubted Capone’s role in the massacre.
The St. Valentine’s Day Massacre was the last confrontation for both Capone and Moran. In June 1931, Capone was indicted for income tax evasion. He was sentenced to 11 years in prison and $80,000 in fines and court costs. He entered Atlanta penitentiary in 1932 and in 1934 was transferred to the new Alcatraz Island prison. In 1939, he was released. By that time, Prohibition had been repealed, and Capone’s empire had collapsed. In 1940 he retired to his Miami estate, where he lived until his death in 1947.
Moran was relegated to small-time robberies until he was sent to jail in 1946. He died in Leavenworth Federal Prison in 1957 of lung cancer.
On the seventh anniversary of the massacre, Jack McGurn, one of the Valentine’s Day hit men, was killed in a crowded bowling alley with a burst of machine-gun fire. McGurn’s killer remains unidentified. No one was ever charged with the murder.
Today in 1938, former silent film actress Hedda Hopper wrote the first installment of what became her tremendously influential gossip column in the Los Angeles Times and a 28-year career.
The 1940s and 1950s were a golden age for Hollywood gossip columnists, and Hopper and Louella Parsons (who famously carried on a bitter decade-long feud) received sizeable salaries–Hopper’s was estimated at close to $200,000–and tons of gifts from studios hoping for favorable coverage of their movies and actors. In one telling statement, Hopper referred to her own lavish home as “the house that fear built.” In 1936 Hopper parlayed her knowledge of the movie industry and Hollywood society into a radio show.
In addition to her coverage of Hollywood’s latest pregnancy or breakup, Hopper became increasingly political, voicing her conservative opinions, praising Republican candidates such as Barry Goldwater and attacking the actor Charles Chaplin for his leftist views. Her autobiography, From Under My Hat (1952) was followed by The Whole Truth and Nothing But (1962). Hopper has a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame. (Her only child, actor William Hopper, is best known for playing Paul Drake in the Perry Mason series.)
Hedda Hopper was born May 2, 1885 at Hollidaysburg, Pennsylvania. She died February 1, 1966 at Hollywood, California. She was 80 years old. She is buried at Altoona, Pennsylvania.
Today in 1886 the first trainload of oranges grown by southern California farmers left Los Angeles via the transcontinental railroad.
By the time the U.S. took control of California in 1848, Los Angeles had just over 1,610 inhabitants. As Anglo-Americans asserted their control over California, large Hispanic ranches were replaced with a more diversified farming economy. With irrigation, southern California proved an ideal environment for growing many crops, particularly valuable fruits like oranges. During the 1870s and 1880s, state railroad lines linking Los Angeles into the new system of transcontinental railways created additional moneymaking opportunities.
Taking advantage of the capabilities of the transcontinental lines, Los Angeles area orchard owners began shipping their oranges to the East. As the city grew, it subdivided many nearby orchards and pushed the orange growers out into regions like Orange County.
Just before the first trainload of oranges departed, Los Angeles had 11,183 inhabitants. A decade later, the population had ballooned to 102,479. By 1920, there would be more than half a million residents. Los Angeles was already well on its way to becoming the largest urban center in the American West.
Today in 1884, future President Theodore Roosevelt’s wife and mother died, only hours apart.
His mother, Mittie, had succumbed to typhoid fever. On the same day, his wife Alice Lee, died of Bright’s disease, a severe kidney ailment. Only two days before her death, Alice Lee had given birth to the couple’s daughter, Alice.
The double tragedy devastated Roosevelt. Burdened by grief, he abandoned politics, left the infant Alice with his sister Bamie, and, at the end of 1884, struck out for the Dakota territories, where he lived as a rancher and worked as a sheriff for two years. After a blizzard wiped out his prized herd of cattle in 1885, Roosevelt decided to return to eastern society. Once back in New York in 1886, he again took up politics and took over raising his precocious daughter, Alice, who later became a national celebrity.
When McKinley died at the beginning of his second term in 1901, Roosevelt moved into the White House, where he and his family would spend the next eight years.
Alice grew to admire and respect her father yet, according to her memoirs and friends, she harbored resentment toward him for having abandoned her as a baby. Not long after he married his second wife, Edith, in 1886, Alice found herself competing not only with her father’s political cronies and new wife for his attention, but also with her five half-siblings who arrived in quick succession. The high-spirited Alice perhaps took to scandalous behavior in retaliation.
The Roosevelt era coincided with a repressive time in women’s history, but the independent Alice flouted acceptable behavior and reveled in the spotlight as first daughter. Alice’s activities as a young adult, such as smoking and staying out late with boys, irked her father, who nevertheless indulged her. In one instance when she repeatedly burst into a White House meeting, Roosevelt shrugged apologetically, “I can either run the country or I can control Alice, but I cannot possibly do both.”
Alice maintained a high profile in Washington society. She was banned from visiting the Taft White House after a voodoo doll of Mrs. Taft was found buried (by Alice) in the front lawn. President Wilson also banned her from White House society in retaliation for her making a lewd comment about him in public.
Today in 1970 despite an increasingly active antiwar movement, a Gallup Poll showed that a majority (55 percent) opposed an immediate withdrawal of U.S. troops from Vietnam. Those that favored American withdrawal had risen from 21 percent, in a November poll, to 35 percent. President Nixon had taken office in January 1969 promising to bring the war to an end, but a year later the fighting continued and support for the president’s handling of the war had begun to slip significantly.
Today, German General Erwin Rommel and his Afrika Korps launched an offensive against an Allied defensive line in Tunisia, North Africa. Rommel determined that the weakest point in the Allied defensive line was at the Kasserine Pass, a 2-mile-wide gap in Tunisia’s Dorsal Mountains, which was defended by American troops. His first strike was repulsed, but with tank reinforcements, Rommel broke through on February 20, inflicting devastating casualties on the U.S. forces. The Americans withdrew from their position, leaving behind most of their equipment. More than 1,000 American soldiers were killed by Rommel’s offensive, and hundreds were taken prisoner.
Today in 1849 photographer Mathew Brady took the first photograph of a U.S. President in office, James Polk.