The Valentine has pleased and perturbed people since Charles, Duke of Orleans, sent one to his wife from the Tower of London in 1415. (He’d been captured at the Battle of Agincourt.)
European colonists brought Valentine’s Day with them to New England in the 1700s, and New Englanders have celebrated — and profited from — the holiday.
Here are six quick facts about Valentine’s Day, Valentine greetings and Valentine events:
- Perhaps the most notorious Valentine ever was sent by John Wilkes Booth to Lucy Lambert Hale, the daughter of John Parker Hale, U.S. senator from New Hampshire. Lincoln’s assassin sent the Valentine to Lucy anonymously in 1862. “To see you has indeed afforded me a melancholy pleasure,” he wrote. They flirted, they courted and then they got engaged. According to some accounts, Lucy dined with Booth two hours before he killed President Lincoln. A picture of Lucy Lambert Hale was found on his body. Lucy left the country after the assassination and married a New Hampshire lawyer nine years later.
- Worcester, Mass., once reigned as the Valentine Capital of the United States. Esther Howland, born in Worcester in 1828, went into the Valentine business in her home town after graduating from Mount Holyoke. It grew into the largest greeting card factory in the world, until World War II caused paper shortages that put an end to the business.
After the Civil War, the vinegar Valentine came into fashion. They were cheap cards that insulted the recipient. George Whitney, who carried on Esther Howland’s Valentine empire, refused to make them. Typical of a vinegar valentine was this:
You’ve got more curves than a roller-coaster
Your clothes fit like a glove
There’s one thing wrong – Glamorpuss
You’ve a face—
Only a mother could love!
Conversation hearts are still made the way they were in 1901, when the New England Confectionary Co. began to print witty sayings on heart-shaped candies. People loved them. Only eight years after they were introduced, they appeared in the novel Anne of Green Gables as a pink sweetheart saying “You are sweet.” Starting in 1927, the conversation hearts were made in the world’s largest candy factory in Cambridge, Mass. Today a factory in Revere, Mass., churns 8 billion of them every year.
- One of the most memorable storms in New England history barreled into the region just 15 months after the The Great New England Hurricane of 1938. The Valentine’s Day Storm of 1940 struck Connecticut, Rhode Island and Massachusetts without warning. It killed 31, paralyzed travel and stranded thousands for days. Two thousand people who came to see Sonja Henie perform at the Boston Gardenwere stuck in the city overnight. It took 17,000 men with shovels to dig Boston out.
- Louis May Alcott found a way to enjoy Valentine’s Day in 1868. She was 35, unmarried, in poor health and trying to support herself while living in a small room in Boston. In three months she would start to write Little Women. On that Valentine’s Day, she wrote an essay about old maids like herself called Happy Women. She listed busy, useful, independent spinsters like herself, and commented, ‘liberty is a better husband than love to many of us.’