John Mincks, who portrays Dillinger in the reenactment, believes it was Dillinger’s Robin Hood reputation that made him the enduring folk hero that he continues to be to this day. “I look at guys like Dillinger, Jesse James, Billy the Kid and ask ‘Why are they so popular, so romantic in our minds?’ I think it’s because they all came at a time when it was hard times, hard times for everybody in the country and they gave back a little bit and they gave some hope to those without. That attitude of helping the little man is why he became popular. If he hadn’t have had that, he wouldn’t be the name that he is today.”
David Slutes, Entertainment Director for Hotel Congress believes it was Dillinger’s devil-may-care attitude that propelled him into the national spotlight. “He was cocky. He was funny. He looked like he was enjoying himself while he was doing all this stuff. He could have been an actor if he’d wanted to but he picked a life of crime instead.”
Whatever the reasons for Dillinger’s sustained cultural relevance, Dillinger Days has become one of the more unique events in the Tucson area by virtue of its link to America’s gangster past. “Dillinger Days continues to grow,” said Mr. Slutes. “We seem to be the caretakers of this little piece of Tucson history. We’re very proud of it. You can actually really live it and feel it here. It’s pretty cool.”
And now for the million dollar question:
How did Dillinger and his gang get caught?
David Slutes explains the confluence of coincidences that led to Dillinger’s capture that fateful night in 1934.
“The real story is we know the gang stayed here (at the Hotel Congress) for sure, we’re not sure if John himself stayed here one night. He actually found a girlfriend on 2nd Avenue not too far from here that he moved over to and the rest of the gang was staying here the night we had this big fire and the gang was subsequently rounded up for the police department because the firemen recognized them and grabbed them.
Dillinger Days has a little bit of everything: crime, romance, a sense of reliving history and it’s also just plain fun. James Ferguson, dressed in his era appropriate garb, summed up the experience. “84 years later we’re still celebrating it. We all get to get dressed up and feel like we’re John Dillinger for a couple of days and have a good time.”
For more information, visit The Hotel Congress to find out more about Dillinger Days and Tucson’s connection to America’s Public Enemy Number 1.