Walter Spirko Covered St. Valentine's Massacre
Chicago Tribune November 27, 1995
by Pamela Cytrynbaum, Tribune Staff Writer
Walter Spirko, 85, a five-decade Chicago newsman who as an 18-year-old cub reporter was the first on the scene of the St. Valentine's Day Massacre, died Friday.
Mr. Spirko, a high school dropout who lied about his age to get hired at the City News Bureau in 1926, described that infamous February morning in 1929 during a speech last year. He said he was in the Cook County coroner's office when he learned--even before the police were notified--that seven men had been shot to death in a garage on North Clark Street in Chicago. He had a tough time convincing his editor that he wasn't just another new kid getting fooled.
"I tried telling him twice and he hung up on me both times," Mr. Spirko said. "When he finally learned what happened, my editor shouted at me, 'Spirko, why didn't you convince me?' "
"He's the last of the 'Front Page' era police reporters who'd do anything for a story," said John O'Brien, a Tribune reporter and past chairman of the Chicago Press Veterans Association. "At that time there were six newspapers in Chicago with several editions each. You HAD to get that story. And Walter did."
Mr. Spirko spent 14 years with the City News Bureau and 38 with the Chicago Sun-Times before retiring in 1978. He founded the Chicago Newspaper Reporters Association and was its elected president for 49 years.
In 1994, Mr. Spirko was named Press Veteran of the Year by Chicago Press Veterans Association.
Survivors include his wife, Mary; a son, Richard; and a stepson, Michael. Visitation will be Monday from 3 to 9 p.m. at Drake & Sons Funeral Home, 625 Busse Highway, Park Ridge. Services will be Tuesday at 10 a.m. in the funeral home chapel.