Maybe Portlanders lack curiosity. Maybe that’s why no one’s ever staged a successful overnight sting to capture and identify the elusive Valentine’s Day Bandit.
Nah. It’s just nicer to imagine there’s stealthy local cupid with supernatural powers walking among us. Because maybe there is. How else would such an awesome annual tradition stay alive for nearly four decades?
Those simple red hearts first appeared on downtown storefronts back in 1976. Here’s an excerpt from a story first published by the Portland Press Herald in 2001 that gives us modern-day paper heart appreciators some history:
– Written by Beth Brogan, news assistant, with research by Beth Murphy
On Feb. 14, 1976, Portland residents awoke to find hundreds of red hearts, printed on white 8 1/2-by-11-inch paper, taped to doors, windows, telephone poles – just about any surface available in downtown Portland.
Police and city officials were baffled, with no idea who had sneaked through the city during the wee hours of Valentine’s Day to adorn buildings with this symbol of love.
The next year, a newspaper reporter set out to track down the “Valentine’s Day Phantom.”
One print shop employee remembered a man in his early twenties ordering 1,000 copies of the red heart. The job order listed the customer as “Mr. Thought.” A check of his address showed that one “Ian Valentine” lived there. Mr. Valentine denied any involvement.
That same year, a Portland policeman remembered seeing a 20-something with strawberry blond hair and a full beard in Congress Square around 2 a.m. The man told him, “I’m in love and I want everybody to be my Valentine.”
By 1979, the mysterious Valentine bandit had hit the federal building, the county courthouse, City Hall, the Holiday Inn, the Cumberland County Civic Center and even a handful of police cruisers.
The phantom reached new heights in 1984 when he hung white banners with red hearts, each about 20 feet by 35 feet, from the east wall of the Civic Center and from the Portland Museum of Art.
In 1986, he even made a trip to Fort Gorges in Casco Bay to hang a banner. That adventure almost ended the phantom’s nocturnal visits. The Island Romance ferry barely missed a small outboard carrying seven people.
Amid speculation that the bandit was rappelling from a helicopter or might even be Spiderman, the hearts continued.
One extra-special Valentine made an appearance along Congress Street (in 2001). Flying proudly atop the Central Fire Station was a familiar white flag with a big red heart.
Of course, a little inquisition never hurt anyone. So we’ve decided to present a few potential Valentine’s Day Bandit suspects: