Because I am not really a fan of Valentines Day I am not going to offer you any quotes of love or any stories about saints. What I am going to offer you is a story, a true story that actually took place in the real world where cherubs and cupids do not reside. It is not a pretty story, nor will it make you feel like laying next to your lover, it is sad, but nonetheless it is a part of our history. It should be spoken so the people who lost their lives on that tragic day are not forgotten.
For a city that is so filled with the history of crime, there has been little preservation of the landmarks that were once so important to the legend of the mob in Chicago. Gone are the landmarks like the Lexington Hotel, where Al Capone kept the fifth floor suite and used the place as his headquarters. But most tragic, at least to crime buffs, was the destruction of the warehouse that was located at 2122 North Clark Street. It was here, on Valentine's Day 1929, that the most spectacular mob hit in gangland history took place..... the St. Valentine's Day Massacre.
The building was called the S-M-C Cartage Company and was a red, brick structure on Clark Street. The events that led to the massacre began on the morning of the 14th. A group of men had gathered at the warehouse that morning, set up by a Detroit gangster who told Moran that a truck was on its way to Chicago.
One of them was Johnny May, an ex-safecracker who had been hired by George "Bugs" Moran as an auto mechanic. He was working on a truck that morning, with his dog tied to the bumper, while six other men waited for the truck of hijacked whiskey to arrive. The men were Frank and Pete Gusenberg, who were supposed to meet Moran and pick up two empty trucks to drive to Detroit and pick up smuggled Canadian whiskey; James Clark, Moran's brother-in-law; Adam Heyer; Al Weinshank; and Reinhardt Schwimmer, a young optometrist who had befriended Moran and hung around the liquor warehouse just for the thrill of rubbing shoulders with gangsters.
Bugs Moran was already late for the morning meeting. He was due to arrive at 10:30 but didn't even leave for the rendezvous, in the company of Willie Marks and Ted Newberry, until several minutes after that.
While the seven men waited inside of the warehouse, they had no idea that a police car had pulled up outside, or that Moran had spotted the car and had quickly taken cover. Five men got out of the police car, three of them in uniforms and two in civilian clothing. They entered the building and a few moments later, the clatter of machine gun fire broke the stillness of the snowy morning. Soon after, five figures emerged and they drove away. May's dog, inside of the warehouse, was barking and howling and when neighbors went to check and see what was going on... they discovered a bloody murder scene.
Moran's men had been lined up against the rear wall of the garage and had been sprayed with machine-guns. They killed all seven of them but had missed Bugs Moran. He had figured the arrival of the police car to be some sort of shakedown and had hung back. When the machine gunning started, he, Marks and Newberry had fled. The murders broke the power of the North Side gang and Moran correctly blamed Al Capone. No one will probably ever know who the actual shooters were, but one of them was probably Machine Gun McGurn, one of Capone's most trusted men.
Surprisingly, while Moran quickly targeted Capone as ordering the hit, the authorities were baffled. Capone had been in Florida at the time of the massacre and when hearing the news, he stated, "the only man who kills like that is Bugs Moran". At the same time, Moran was proclaiming that "only Capone kills guys like that".
Moran was right.... Capone had been behind the killing and this was perhaps the act that finally began the decline of Capone's criminal empire. He had just gone too far and the authorities, and even Capone's adoring public, were ready to put an end to the bootleg wars.
Chicago, in its own style, memorialized the warehouse on Clark Street. The place became a tourist attraction and the newspapers even printed the photos of the corpses upside-down so that readers would not have to turn their papers around to identify the bodies.
In 1949, the front portion of the S-M-G Garage was turned into an antique furniture storage business by a couple who had no idea of the building's bloody past. They soon found that the place was visited much more by tourists and curiosity-seekers than by customers and eventually closed the business.
In 1967, the building was demolished. However, the bricks from the bullet-marked rear wall were purchased and saved by a Canadian businessman. In 1972, he opened a night club with a Roaring 20's theme and rebuilt the wall, for some strange reason, in the men's restroom. Three nights each week, women were allowed to peek inside at this macabre attraction.
The club continued to operate for a few years and when it closed the owner placed the 417 bricks into storage. He then offered them for sale with a written account of the massacre. He sold the bricks for $1000 each, but soon found that he was getting back as many as he sold. It seemed that anyone who bought one of the bricks was suddenly stricken with bad luck in the form of illness, financial ruin, divorce and even death.
According to the stories, the bricks themselves had somehow been infested with the powerful negative energy of the massacre!
Whatever became of the rest of the bricks is unknown..........
Or that's what the legend says....
In recent years, other bricks have emerged that claim to have come from the wall. These were not bricks purchased from Patey but were smuggled out of the lot by construction workers and curiosity-seekers. It was said that from these bricks come the legends of misfortune and bad luck. Are these bricks authentic? The owners say they are... but you'll have to judge for yourself!
Whatever the legend of the bricks themselves and whether or not they have somehow been "haunted" by what happened, there is little doubt about the site on Clark Street itself. Even today, people walking along the street at night have reported the sounds of screams and machine guns as they pass the site. The building is long gone but the area is marked as a fenced-off lawn that belongs to the nearby nursing home. Five trees are scattered along the place in a line and the one in the middle marks the location where the rear wall once stood.
Passerby often report these strange sounds and the indescribable feeling of fear as they walk past. Those who are accompanied by dogs report their share of strangeness too.... Animals appear to be especially bothered by this piece of lawn, sometimes barking and howling, sometimes whining in fear. Their sense of what happened here many years ago seems to be much greater than our own.
To hear more about The St. Valentines Day Massacre check out Prairie Ghosts.