On this Valentine's Day in Chicago there will be less fuss about hearts and flowers than about blood and guts.
It is the golden anniversary of the crime that made this city's name synonymous with gangsters and tommy guns.
As time steals the renown of other crimes, including the more than 500 gangland slayings reported here since 1929, and the spectacular local mass murders attributed to Richard Speck or John Wayne Gacy, it seems to have had the opposite effect on the St. Valentine's Day Massacre and the fame of Alphonse (Scarface) Capone.
Capone has become a romantic figure, much like Billy the Kid. He is indelible in the city's history, the very essence of the "City of Big Shoulders," "the City on the Make," "the town Billy Sunday could never put down."
The city that is home turf to Sears, Roebuck & Co. and McDonald's appreciates his efficiency in the face of obstacles.
In the city whose politics led newspaper pundit Mike Royko to suggest that the official motto be changed from "Urbs in Horto (City in a Garden)" to "Ubi Est Meus? (Where's Mine?)", free enterprise is not scorned.
The city that reared the late alderman Paddy ("This city ain't ready for reform") Bauler has a fondness for the Bogart-like eloquence of the one victim who lived just long enough to be asked about the massacre.
And, of course, the city of Mayor Richard J. Daley cannot but have a soft spot for a man like Capone who claimed that he fed 2,500 to 3,000 hungry Chicagoans a day in the early part of the Depression.
So while there is no official celebration, the St. Valentine's Day Massacre is being commemorated here with television specials and column after column of colorful and nostalgic newspaper coverage.
In 1929, Capone and George (Bugs) Moran were celebrity gangsters. Moran and his gang controlled Prohibition booze, gambling and other vice on the city's North Side, much to the dismay of Capone, who controlled the South Side vice. After the Moran gang hijacked some of Capone's booze and beat up some of his men Capone decided to wipe out Moran.
On Valentine's Day 1929, two sentries were supposed to signal Capone machine gunners as soon as Moran joined his gang, as he did each morning, at the S-M-C Cartage Co. garage north of Chicago's downtown.
But the sentries apparently mistook someone else for Moran and gave the signal too soon. Four Capone killers -- two dressed as policemen -- arrived at the garage in a black Cadillac. Inside, six of Moran's men and a hapless optometrist who liked their company were waiting for a shipment of hijacked booze.
Evidently assuming it was a police raid, the seven lined up against a wall. Capone's men sprayed them with machine gun fire. Six died instantly and the seventh, Frank Gusenberg, a little later at a hospital.
One of the policemen sent to the scene, detective Clarence Sweeney, was a grammar school chum of Gusenberg's and rode at his side in an ambulance to the hospital.
According to several probably apocryphal accounts Sweeney asked the dying gangster, "Who shot you, Frank?"
"Nobody," Gusenberg sneered with his final breath. "I ain't no copper."
Though almost certainly fiction, that eloquence is part of the aura of the St. Valentine's Massacre today; a "fact" that improved in the gestation of a legend.
Whatever initial horror the St. Valentine's Day Massacre may have caused -- "It's too much to tell," the Chicago Daily News gasped on page one -- it has long since faded and been replaced with sentimentality.
Capone is seen more as a product of American good intention gone haywire and an argument against de jure temperance rather than as a criminal. The mass murderers who have appeared since his time are perceived merely as disgusting.
Prohibition never was popular here. Capone met a public demand. His empire was built on booze and violent supression of competition in contrast to, say, Joseph P. Kennedy's empire, which was built on booze and nonviolent suppression of competition.
Capone was a model of the organizational mind. He never lifted a finger except perhaps to signal a henchman. Typically, Capone was in Miami when the shooting started, establishing with characteristic flair, a perfect alibi.He was being interviewed by the U.S. attorney. The killers are thought to have been led by "Machine Gun" Jack McGurn, a handsome, swaggering exfighter and reputedly Capone's favorite executioner.
No one ever was brought to justice for the massacre, unless poetic justice counts.
McGurn "got his" seven years later -- on the eve of St. Valentine's Day -- in the manner he had done so much to perfect.
Largely as a reaction to the massacre, Capone was indicted and convicted of federal income tax evasion in 1931. He was released from Alcatraz "nutty as a fruit cake" in 1939 and died eight years later of a brain hemorrhage.
Today's reputed leaders of the Chicago mob, Tony (Big Tuna) Accardo and Joey (The Doves) Aiuppa, are mundane by comparison.
According to William Lambie, associate director of the Chicago Crime Commission, Accardo is now in semiretirement and Aiuppa runs the day-to-day affairs of the Chicago syndicate. The mob consists of 100 to 200 men, he said. Its main illegal activities are gambling, fencing stolen merchandise, loan sharking and auto chop shop operations, but it is involved only slightly, if at all, in narcotics and prostitution.
Lambie said the syndicate has invested in legal enterprises, particularly Las Vegas gambling. "Just like anyone with a lot of money, they've got to invest it," he said.
Crime commission statistics indicate that gangland murder has averaged only 10 a year in Chicago since 1929, compared with more than 50 a year from 1919 through 1929. In all, year from 1919 through 1929. In all, from 1919 until now, the city has counted 1,061 mob slayings.
So never mind that the St. Valentine's Day Massacre essentially was handled incompetently, in that the principal intended victim, Moran, escaped. And never mind that it ultimately backfired, in that it prompted the federal government for the first time to apply the tax laws innovatively to get someone who could not otherwise be gotten.
These facts detract from the legend and, thus, are no more recalled than the unfortunate truth about the demise of Billy the Kid, who died in his stocking feet.
Clearly etched in every crime connoisseur's mind is Moran's tribute to beastly efficiency after the massacre:
"Nobody kills like that but Capone."