It's nearly Valentine's Day, that precious holiday devoted to sentimental thoughts of fights, family feuds, libel suits, and sudden death.
In the good old days when romance was still king, sending "comic" or "vinegar" Valentines was quite common.
Fierce retaliation by the recipients was even more popular.
From the "Eaton Democrat," May 17, 1855:
A few days ago, a young lady of Cincinnati who had received an offensive valentine, suspecting a neighboring bachelor of having a hand in the matter, took a convenient opportunity, in the afternoon, while he was passing an alley entrance overlooked by the window, of emptying the contents of an earthen vessel over his devoted head.
The story of a Valentine that destroyed a whole family comes from the "Logansport Times," April 19, 1889:
Fifty years ago James Martin, well-to-do farmer living near Ballietville, refused to purchase his fifteen-year-old daughter a dress that she very much coveted on the plea that he could not afford it. It was a few days before St. Valentine's Day. The daughter was a quick tempered girl and took her father's refusal to purchase her the dress much to heart.
On St. Valentine's Day Farmer Martin took from the village post-office a valentine addressed to him in his daughter's handwriting. It was a rough caricature, representing a miser counting and gloating over his money. There lived in the neighborhood a man of that kind. He had a niece whom he treated brutally. When Farmer Martin looked at his valentine he showed it to his wife, simply remarking that be had not expected such a bitter and uncalled-for insult from their child. Mr. Martin took the girl to task about it. The daughter at once declared that she had not sent the valentine to her father, but on the contrary, had mailed him a very complimentary one, entitled "The Honest Farmer," it having been her custom since she was a little child to send him a valentine every year. The old miser's niece had obtained the valentine Farmer Martin received to send to her uncle. Farmer Martin's daughter was with her when she bought it. The two girls had sealed their valentines at the same time, and the Martin girl took them both and addressed them. In doing so she got them mixed, and sent the miser's valentine to her father.
In spite of all explanation, Farmer Martin could not be brought to believe daughter's story. From that day he never spoke to her. She married and lived on a farm adjoining her father's. With her husband and her children Farmer Martin was on the fondest and most familiar terms, but he never noticed his daughter. Recently he died. He left an estate valued at $45,000, To his aged widow he left $30,000. To his son-in-law he bequeathed the remainder of the estate, provided he survived his wife, the farmer's daughter. If the husband died first then the $15,000 was to be divided among his three children. To his daughter Farmer Martin bequeathed "a package to be found in his trunk, tied with a green ribbon and sealed with green wax." When this was opened it was found to be the unfortunate valentine that had caused the extraordinary estrangement of the farmer from his daughter fifty years ago.
Sending a poison-pen Valentine is one thing. Sending the real thing quite another. From the "Iowa County Advertiser," February 27, 1903:
Miss Lulu Cole of York, Pa., received on Valentine's day a phial of poison by mail, and since has had eight letters threatening her life. The valentine and letters have been turned over to the postal authorities, who are making an investigation. Miss Cole thinks the letters were sent by a young woman out of jealousy.
Vinegar Valentines were a lawyer's best friend. Here are a few cases where love--or something--led not to the altar, but to the courtroom. First up comes a story from the "Butte Inter Mountain," April 30, 1902:
Steve Hughes, a young man living in the eastern part of the city, was arrested by Deputy United States Marshal Meiklejohn yesterday on a charge of sending through the mail a valentine on which there was some obscene writing. The warrant for the arrest was sworn out by M.J. Donahue, miner at the Pennsylvania mine, to whose young daughter the valentine was sent.
The offense was committed about the middle of February. Since then the matter has been in the hands of an attorney to whom Mr. Donahue referred it.
Hughes is not in custody; he was released on his own recognizance on assurance from his parents that he would appear before United States Commissioner Naughton tomorrow.
So, a tripe-dresser and a cheesemonger walk into a courthouse...("Exeter Gazette," March 13, 1885.)
At Fulham, George Crate and William Ward, neighbours, each summoned the other for an assault. Crate is a tripe-dresser; Ward a cheesemonger. During the progress of the case a settlement was suggested, upon which Crate presented the Magistrate with a valentine which had come to him by post, and which was the chief cause of offense. This, however, was met by the cheesemonger producing another valentine, which had come to him through the post, and with which he was greatly annoyed, especially as there was a libel written on it. The tripe-dresser then averred that he had also been libelled. The Magistrate suggested that the parties should exchange the loving epistles, but, having looked at them, he directed the usher to take the tongs and put them in the fire; the papers were too dirty for anyone's hands. The cheesemonger, however, was reluctant to part with his property--he wished to frame the valentine. [Ed. note: ???] The order of the law, however, took its course, and amid much amusement the valentines were placed in the fire, and the summonses issued by both parties were dismissed.
This must have been quite some school. The "New York World," July 27, 1895:
Hempstead, L.I., July 27.--Squire James Seaman's court-room was crowded this morning at the hearing in the charge of libel made against Trustee George N. Paff, of the Uniondale School District, by Principal Caleb Simons. The latter alleged that Trustee Paff had sent him a written valentine of an offensive character, and also circulated a report that he had taught his girl pupils high kicking in the school room. [Ed. note: ??????]
Miss Emily Ashdown, one of the pupils at the Uniondale school, blushed when she was called to the witness stand. She testified that Lottie Paff, a daughter of Trustee Paff, had told her that her father had sent funny valentines to Principal Simons.
Miss Ashdown said that she had never seen any high kicking in the school-room by the principal or the girl pupils. Florence Vandewater, another pupil, gave testimony of a similar character.
Lottie Paff was then called to the stand. The objectionable written valentines which Principal Simons had received were then showed to the witness. Lottie seemed much confused. At first she said the writing was like her father's handwriting, but she finally stammered out that she was positive that the signature was not her father's.
The hearing was not concluded.
This was a claim by the plaintiff, a young man, to recover a sum of £4 1s. 4d. of defendant, landlord of the Dover Castle tavern, Deptford, being the amount of a month's wages as barman. The defendant paid £3 11s. 4d. into Court, and disputed the remainder. The plaintiff stated that he was engaged by the defendant as barman at a salary of £25 per annum, but had received a month's notice to leave. This notice would have expired on the 20th February, but on the 11th of February defendant suddenly ordered him to leave the house, refusing to let him remain any longer. The defendant observed that on the day in question, while standing in his bar, the plaintiff came inside, and, without making any remark, struck a lad who was standing there a most violent blow in the face, splitting the lad's nose, and causing him to have two black eyes. He thought the attack so cowardly that he certainly did order plaintiff to leave, and tendered him the amount due to him up to that time.--His Honor--: What have you to say to this?--The Plaintiff: The fact is, your Honor, I have some young lady friends in the country, and received a letter from them, enclosing a valentine which had been sent them, and accusing me, as the only person they knew in London, of having sent it them. (Laughter)--His Honor: Have you the valentine with you?--The Plaintiff: No, your Honor, but it was a most offensive one, indeed.--(Renewed laughter.)--His Honor: The valentine, I suppose, had a picture and a copy of verses?--The Plaintiff: Yes, your Honor, and the verses, I can assure you, were most indelicate.--(Loud laughter.)--His Honor: But how do you know the lad sent it to the young ladies?--The Plaintiff: Oh! your Honor, I know he did. I could tell his handwriting, and he often said he would write to my sweetheart, and admitted doing so.--(Loud laughter.)--His Honor: Then what you object to is the sending of verses anything but of an Orpheus character to your lady love!--(Roars of laughter.)--The Plaintiff: Yes, your Honor, I do, besides I do not think I ought to have been turned away, because I received quite as violent a blow in the face as I gave the lad--(Laughter.)--His Honor: Well, I think the defendant was quite justified in summarily dismissing you after your pugilistic conduct in the bar. It was, no doubt, annoying for you to find your sweetheart annoyed by an insulting valentine being sent her, but you should have restrained your violence in your master's house.--Judgment was then given for defendant, and the plaintiff left the court.
That barman and the impolite young man with the broken nose and black eyes got off easy. From the "Semi-Weekly Interior Journal," February 25, 1898:
In Falls county, Texas, Jesse Kelley shot and killed two Dewalt brothers, who had threatened his life on a false accusation of sending an offensive valentine to their sister.
This headline from the "Wheeling Intelligencer," February 15, 1900, says it all:
Yet another Fatal Valentine was reported in the "Indiana State Sentinel," March 18, 1847:
The Coroner was called to hold an inquest at the house of J. Cheserman, 710, Broadway, New York, on the body of a young girl, named Margaret Cray, a servant in his family, who came to her death by taking laudanum. A companion, with whom she slept, testified that when she went to bed, she left Margaret standing before the looking glass, decking her hair as if for a party, having previously performed her ablutions, and arrayed herself in her best gown. She also testified that the deceased spoke to her about taking some medicine, and playfully asked her if she would not like a little. When she fell asleep, the deceased was upon her knees at prayer. Perfect silence then rested upon the household, and in the morning Margaret Cray was dead, and an empty vial was on a stand beside her bed.
She was a beautiful girl, but on the day before her death, she had received a cruel Valentine, from one whom she had looked upon as a lover; which circumstance was probably the cause of her death.
The lesson is clear: Valentine's Day is the most frightening day of the year. I strongly advise you, dear readers, to avoid sending any cards this year, and whatever you do, refuse to accept any. And no high kicking in the school-room!
However, if you insist on celebrating the holiday, do so wisely. If anyone wishes to exercise their sentimental leanings by getting my house a new roof and plumbing, cleaning the cat boxes, presenting me with ten million dollars in cash, and writing my blog posts for the next few years, I can guarantee the gestures would be graciously accepted.
|Leave it to Krampus to capture the true spirit of the day.|