John’s Believe It Or Not… February 14th

* 2010 – Alex Bilodeau makes history in Men’s Moguls with the first Olympic gold medal on Canadian Soil. * 278 St. Valentine beheaded * 1929 The St. Valentine’s Day Massacre * 1886 First trainload of oranges leaves Los Angeles * 1977 The B-52’s play their first gig

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Alex Bilodeau

Happy Valentines Day! Did You Know…

* 2010 – Alex Bilodeau makes history in Men’s Moguls with the first Olympic gold medal on Canadian Soil.

Alexandre Bilodeau, skier (born 8 September 1987 in Montréal, QC). Moguls skier Alexandre Bilodeau was the first Canadian athlete to win an Olympic gold medal on home soil when he won gold in moguls at the 2010 Olympic Winter Games in Vancouver. He successfully defended his gold medal at the 2014 Olympic Winter Games in Sochi.

Bilodeau played hockey as a youngster, but his family encouraged him to switch to skiing because it was a sport that could be enjoyed by the whole family, including Alex’s older brother Frédéric, who has cerebral palsy and is unable to skate. Though not initially fond of the sport, Bilodeau was a natural jumper and excelled at freestyle skiing, and began his competitive career in his early teens. Bilodeau initially competed in both aerials and moguls, but soon focused on the latter and joined the national team’s development program in 2004. His background in aerials strengthened his skills as a mogul skier, and at just 14 years old he became the youngest athlete to perform a triple jump in competition.

Bilodeau started his competitive years strongly, becoming the first freestyle mogul skier to perform a double twisting flip in competition, at the 2005 Fernie Nor-Am, and the youngest man in International Ski Federation (FIS) history to win a gold at a World Cup event, at the 2006 Ski Mont Gabriel. Bilodeau also qualified for the Torino Olympic Games in 2006, where he placed 11th. For his accomplishments, the FIS named Bilodeau 2005–06 Rookie of the Year for men’s moguls.

Though his career started strong, problems with concentration during competition soon forced his stats down, and Bilodeau looked to other training methods such as biofeedback to regain his focus. The training helped, and his 2008–09 season ended well. In 2009, Bilodeau and teammates Vincent Marquis and Pierre-Alexandre Rousseau had an unprecedented Canadian podium sweep at the Ski Mont Gabriel World Cup, winning silver, gold, and bronze respectively. In all, Bilodeau garnered five World Cup golds and three silvers in moguls and dual moguls, and a world championship title in the dual moguls leading up to the Vancouver 2010 Olympics. The season also yielded three significant international titles for Bilodeau: 2009 FIS Overall Champion, 2009 FIS World Cup Mogul Champion and 2009 Dual Mogul World Champion.

Coming into the 2010 Winter Olympic Games, Bilodeau was ranked fourth in the world standings. Though conditions at Vancouver’s Cypress Mountain were challenging and slushy, Bilodeau executed a perfect back-flip and flawless run through the moguls, scoring 26.75 points and unseating the reigning Olympic champion, ex-patriate Canadian Dale Begg-Smith, who competed for Australia. Begg-Smith took silver with his score of 26.58 points, and US skier Bryon Wilson won bronze with 26.08 points. It was Canada’s first Olympic gold in moguls since Jean-Luc Brassard’s win in 1994. In addition to Brassard, Bilodeau cites his brother Frédéric as one of his greatest inspirations.

Posing with his brother, Moguls skier Alex Bilodeau, who became the first Canadian to win Olympic gold on home soil.
Posing with his brother, Moguls skier Alex Bilodeau, who became the first Canadian to win Olympic gold on home soil. (Toronto Star)

* 278 St. Valentine beheaded

On February 14 around the year 278 A.D., Valentine, a holy priest in Rome in the days of Emperor Claudius II, was executed.

Under the rule of Claudius the Cruel, Rome was involved in many unpopular and bloody campaigns. The emperor had to maintain a strong army but was having a difficult time getting soldiers to join his military leagues. Claudius believed that Roman men were unwilling to join the army because of their strong attachment to their wives and families.

To get rid of the problem, Claudius banned all marriages and engagements in Rome. Valentine, realizing the injustice of the decree, defied Claudius and continued to perform marriages for young lovers in secret.

When Valentine’s actions were discovered, Claudius ordered that he be put to death. Valentine was arrested and dragged before the Prefect of Rome, who condemned him to be beaten to death with clubs and to have his head cut off. The sentence was carried out on February 14, on or about the year 270.

Legend also has it that while in jail, St. Valentine left a farewell note for the jailer’s daughter, who had become his friend, and signed it “From Your Valentine.”

For his great service, Valentine was named a saint after his death.

In truth, the exact origins and identity of St. Valentine are unclear. According to the Catholic Encyclopedia, “At least three different Saint Valentines, all of them martyrs, are mentioned in the early martyrologies under the date of 14 February.” One was a priest in Rome, the second one was a bishop of Interamna (now Terni, Italy) and the third St. Valentine was a martyr in the Roman province of Africa.

Legends vary on how the martyr’s name became connected with romance. The date of his death may have become mingled with the Feast of Lupercalia, a pagan festival of love. On these occasions, the names of young women were placed in a box, from which they were drawn by the men as chance directed. In 496 AD, Pope Gelasius decided to put an end to the Feast of Lupercalia, and he declared that February 14 be celebrated as St Valentine’s Day.

Gradually, February 14 became a date for exchanging love messages, poems and simple gifts such as flowers.

Painting: Valentine, a holy priest in Rome in the days of Emperor Claudius II, was executed.
Valentine, a holy priest in Rome in the days of Emperor Claudius II, was executed. (tirto.id)

* 1929 The St. Valentine’s Day Massacre

Four men dressed as police officers enter gangster Bugs Moran’s headquarters on North Clark Street in Chicago, line seven of Moran’s henchmen against a wall, and shoot them to death. The St. Valentine’s Day Massacre, as it is now called, was the culmination of a gang war between arch rivals Al Capone and Bugs Moran.

George “Bugs” Moran was a career criminal who ran the North Side gang in Chicago during the bootlegging era of the 1920s. He fought bitterly with “Scarface” Al Capone for control of smuggling and trafficking operations in the Windy City. Throughout the 1920s, both survived several attempted murders. On one notorious occasion, Moran and his associates drove six cars past a hotel in Cicero, Illinois, where Capone and his associates were having lunch and showered the building with more than 1,000 bullets.

A $50,000 bounty on Capone’s head was the final straw for the gangster. He ordered that Moran’s gang be destroyed. On February 14, a delivery of bootleg whiskey was expected at Moran’s headquarters. But Moran was late and happened to see police officers entering his establishment. Moran waited outside, thinking that his gunmen inside were being arrested in a raid. However, the disguised assassins were actually killing the seven men inside.

The murdered men included Moran’s best killers, Frank and Pete Gusenberg. Reportedly Frank was still alive when real officers appeared on the scene. When asked who had shot him, the mortally wounded Gusenberg kept his code of silence, responding, “No one, nobody shot me.”

The St. Valentine’s Day Massacre actually proved to be the last confrontation for both Capone and Moran. Capone was jailed in 1931 and Moran lost so many important men that he could no longer control his territory. 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, but was likely Moran, though he was never charged with the murder. 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.

The autopsies on the seven bullet-riddled bodies vividly show why the Valentine's Day massacre of 1929 is still considered Chicago's most infamous gangland slaying.
The autopsies on the seven bullet-riddled bodies vividly show why the Valentine’s Day massacre of 1929 is still considered Chicago’s most infamous gangland slaying. (www.history.com)

* 1886 First trainload of oranges leaves Los Angeles

Destined to become one of the state’s major exports, the first trainload of oranges grown by southern California farmers leaves Los Angeles via the transcontinental railroad.

The Spanish had established Los Angeles, one of the oldest cities in the Far West, in 1781 to help colonize the region. For several decades, the city was the largest center of population in Mexican California. Mexican settlement and development of California, however, proceeded very slowly, and Los Angeles developed little real economic or political power during this period. By the time the U.S. took control of California in 1848, Los Angeles still only had just over 1,610 inhabitants.

As Anglo-Americans began to assert their control over California, they gradually broke up the large Hispanic ranches and replaced them 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. Settlers, tourists, and health seekers all boarded trains to travel to the Pacific, where the sunny climate and beautiful scenery promised a new and better life.

The healthful new California lifestyle became closely associated in the public mind with the sweet fruits that grew so abundantly in the orchards around Los Angeles. Taking advantage of the rapid transportation capabilities of the transcontinental lines, Los Angeles area orchard owners began shipping their oranges to the East in 1886. As the city grew, it subdivided many nearby orchards and pushed the orange growers out into regions like Orange County. There the orange growers steadily increased the size of their orchards to the point where local supplies of water for irrigation were inadequate. Determined to sustain their agricultural and real estate booms, Los Angeles residents undertook a massive program of hydraulic engineering in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Engineers took water from the distant mountains to transform the arid southern California ecosystem into a green agricultural and residential paradise.

The resulting growth was astonishing. In 1880, 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.

Poster showing the first trainload of oranges leaves Los Angeles.
The first trainload of oranges leaves Los Angeles. (MakeSweet)

* 1977 The B-52’s play their first gig

The B-52’s, one of the strangest and, to fans, most irresistible, pop groups ever to achieve mainstream success, makes its worldwide debut at a Valentine’s Day house party in Athens, GA, on this day in 1977. In their official Warner Brothers bio, the B-52’s described themselves this way: “As a group, we enjoy science facts, thrift shopping, tick jokes, fat fad diets, geometric exercising, and discovering the ‘essence from within.’” When taken together with the assertion that the band was “found in the Amazon River basin 40 years ago by Professor Agnes Potter and subsequently abandoned at Athens, Georgia,”, this statement says a lot about the odd, but fun-loving sensibility of the B-52s.

It was over tropical cocktails in a Chinese restaurant just a few weeks earlier that Fred Schneider, Keith Strickland, Kate Pierson and brother and sister Cindy and Ricky Wilson decided to apply their shared aesthetic sensibilities to a musical endeavor. While Ricky and Keith invented various extraterrestrial surf-music sounds on guitar and drums, Fred, Kate, and Cindy would ad-lib strange lyrics about killer bees, deep-sea life forms and imaginary dances like the Aqua-Velva and the Hypocrite while a tape recorder ran. By the time they debuted at their friend’s house party, they had established a sound that was at once kitschy and totally original, like 60s surf music from some faraway planet.

Later that year, the group began making regular runs in the Wilson family station wagon up to New York City for gigs at seminal New Wave clubs like Max’s Kansas City and CBGB’s. With Kate and Cindy in their mile-high beehive wigs and 60s thrift-shop best, and Fred looking like a gay, demented golf pro, the B-52s made an immediate impression on the New York scene, and their independently produced single, “Rock Lobster,” became an underground smash.

The B-52s are still in business three decades later, minus Ricky Wilson, who died of AIDS in 1985. Significantly, their success is widely credited for establishing the viability of the Athens, Georgia, music scene, which would produce many minor successes and one massive one—R.E.M.—in the years immediately following the breakthrough of the B-52’s.

The B-52's image that became the image that once hand colored, was used on their first album cover. Taken by photographer George DuBose on 12th December 1977 in NYC
The B-52’s image that became the image that once hand colored, was used on their first album cover. Taken by photographer George DuBose on 12th December 1977 in NYC (The B-52s)

Today’s Sources: 

* Canadian History Timeline – Canada’s Historical Chronology  http://canadachannel.ca/todayincanadianhistory/index.php

* The Canadian Encyclopedia                                                https://www.thecanadianencyclopedia.ca/en/article/alexandre-bilodeau/

* This Day In History – What Happened Today                        http://www.history.com/this-day-in-history/                             

Author: John Fioravanti

I'm a retired History teacher (35 years), husband, father of three, grandfather of three. My wife, Anne, and I became business partners in December, 2013, and launched our own publishing company, Fiora Books (http://fiorabooks.com), to publish my books. We have been married since 1973 and hope our joint business venture will be as successful as our marriage.

9 thoughts on “John’s Believe It Or Not… February 14th”

  1. Alex Bilodeau was terrific. St. Valentine is a classic example of losing one’s head over love. The St. Valentine’s Day Massacre woke up a lot of folks on the dangers of organized crime. Can’t beat a navel orange The B-52’s were so much fun.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Alex is pretty special. Throughout the games, his brother was on the sidelines cheering him on – it was a special story that the Canadian news media focused on. It was a great event to witness Alex win that medal and also the reaction of his brother at the same time. Thanks, John.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. A shame that Valentine’s Day has a history of violence. Yet, love has prevailed. I enjoyed the story on oranges. No wonder an orange in a Christmas stocking was a big treat for children. Best to you, John.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. This is a fascinating list, John. I’m going to offer another. My grandfather was born on this day and was named Valentine. I can still hear his laughter and feel his embrace, and often when I write, I sense him. I know nothing of St. Valentine, but my grandfather embodied that which Hallmark tries to capture – a tenderness and lightheartedness that opens hearts. So, today I remember Papa and wish all an extra embrace. 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    1. That’s a sweet remembrance of your Papa, Gwen – thanks for sharing that! Anne had a great uncle on her dad’s side named Valentine – he was a sweet guy, never married, and he lived with Anne and her parents while she was young. He was the custodian at her elementary school and hired her to help him clean the school on Saturday mornings.
      I was surprised to learn that there were 3 St. Valentines in church archives – all martyrs. Thanks, Gwen!

      Like

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