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Have A Heart – Valentine’s Day 2021

Back in the 1920s, The Independent recorded the lament of a world-weary kindergartener who said she just had no idea who she would wed when she grew up – most of the men she knew seemed to be married already. We understand her feelings completely. Here we sit, reading of Valentine’s Days past, and leaving a trail of bon-bon papers.

In 1925, our scribe considered the history of the occasion: “How and where did St. Valentine’s day originate? It is said to have had its beginning in the farmyard, where the ganders choose their mates on the fourteenth day of February, a preliminary of their courtship being a remarkable fancy dance. Nor, indeed, does this theory of its origin reflect upon lovers a painful ridicule, inasmuch as ganders, once mated, make excellent and faithful husbands… In ancient Rome a sort of love lottery was annually held at the time of the festival called the Supercalia… tablets bearing young women’s names were drawn out of a box by the young men. Each youth availing himself of this privilege was expected to be… the faithful attendant of her whose name he had drawn.” (Maybe we missed this lecture in history class, but we are skeptical: Supercalia sounds too much like the name of a grocery store in Acapulco.)

According to our authority, it was a simple matter, once Christianity took hold, to rename Supercalia for St. Valentine: “The early fathers of the church so modified the Supercalia as to give the celebration a religious character, and at first the names of saints were drawn as valentines… But youths and maidens, finding little amusement in drawing out the names of dead and gone holy men, soon revert to drawing each other.” And there our scribe left off, presumably to depart for a tryst amid the palm fronds of the grill at the Muehlebach. (A colleague opines that our scribe may have been lonely, but we prefer to imagine her as a jaunty figure with bright eyes and a brave smile, wearing new shoes a half-size too small and pulling her coat tightly around her, her cloche hat bobbing, as she dashed down the street, late as usual, to meet her beau.)

Valentine’s Day. For some, the emphasis is on giving – or receiving. Here’s a report from “Betty Ann Brevities,” which appeared in our magazine in 1929: “In a telephone conversation Betty Ann had late this week with a friend whose husband is particularly thoughtful and devoted, she inquired of the young matron as to what her husband had sent her as a Valentine. Betty Ann visioned a great heart of red roses and white orchids, pierced perhaps by a Cupid’s arrow of valley lilies – or an enormous crimson satin box, much beribboned, bearing tender messages, and filled with sweets. But imagine her surprise when her friend replied laconically, ‘Money!’” Still, we suspect that most hearts are melted not by cold cash (although, to be sure, it helps) as much as by the more romantic tales of Valentine’s Day – escpecially those that involve a little black velvet box brought forth by a bedazzled suitor.

It’s not just a day for couples. Parties are another way of celebrating Valentine’s Day. If we had lived in 1935, we know we would have enjoyed this one: “One of the gala events of the week was the stunning dinner party on St. Valentine’s night given by Mrs. Edwin Shields and her Beaux Arts Ball committee, in the Lighton Studios, with the splendid assistance of Mrs. D.M. Lighton. After dinner, the more than fifty guests, hitherto untrained in the art, plunged into the painting of pictures, using the finger method or any preferred media. The finished pictures will be submitted for auction, the proceeds to be given to the Art Institute.” What a nice idea – giving to an organization you love.

Those who gathered at the Lighton Studios were in the mood to create – unlike a certain very young man-about-town of 1929: “A young mother was telling me yesterday that her two-year-old son had been showered with Valentines by his girl friends. ‘And did he enjoy them?’ I asked. ‘O, yes, he was thrilled – he tore them up as soon as he got them in his hands,’ she replied. Which causes me to wonder if the young man will cause that much destruction to fair hearts when he is a few years older.” (We imagine that he inspired many an “I Wonder” come the mid-1950s.) We hope your Valentine’s Day is as romantic as you would like it to be.   

Reprinted from the February 10, 2001 issue of The Independent.


Heather N. Paxton

Heather N. Paxton’s name first appeared in The Independent in a birth announcement back in — oh, never mind. In the mid-1990s, Heather joined the staff as a replacement for a friend who was expecting a visit from the stork. (Let’s hope Heather sent a baby present. The boy is a college graduate now.) Her 20s, 30s, 40s, and now her 50s: Heather has been a staff member for at least brief periods in all of these decades. She is most at home in the office when she is perusing the archives.


Bailey Pianalto Photography


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