Downtown Dillinger Days at Hotel Congress – Get Your Wild West On!

January 5, 2015

DillingerFireBy Cristina Manos

Outlaw John Dillinger spent only 10 days of his life in Tucson. Through a comedy of errors and the dry wit of the Wild West, the Tucson Police Department effectively captured and arrested America’s most wanted outlaw on January 25, 1934. Without firing a shot.

It’s said that even Dillinger himself was surprised at being outwitted by the local PD in the sleepy, dusty Southwestern town of Tucson. Hence the expression “I’ll be damned.” The capture and arrest was perhaps the turning point of Dillinger’s life, and one he would have likely remembered forever had he lived to be an old man.

Most people who revel in 1930s history, art, fashion and culture associate Dillinger, aka “Public Enemy No. 1,” with the murderous outlaws of Chicago. And while Dillinger was shipped back to Indiana after his capture in Tucson, he escaped from jail in Crown Point, Indiana on March 3, 1934. Dillinger resumed robbing banks and was shot and killed by the FBI 4 months later in Chicago.

When Tucson fervently celebrates Dillinger Days every year on the anniversary of the famous capture, perhaps the most appropriate gesture is that of a benefit thrown for the Greater Tucson Fire Foundation. On Friday, January 23rd at Hotel Congress, a Speakeasy benefit starts at 7pm, kicking off the first celebration of Dillinger Days, the two-day event at the Hotel and surrounding area.

It was, after all, the Tucson Fire Department that identified Dillinger and his gang after putting out the January 21, 1934 fire at Hotel Congress. The gang was staying on the third floor of the hotel under fake names, hiding out after committing a rash of crimes and bank robberies across country from Indiana to the Southwest.

It was that fire, one nervous ‘tourist’ eager to tip the fire department for the immediate recovery of his luggage, and the savvy detective work by the local firemen in recognizing the wanted outlaws -that led to the capture of Dillinger and his men. Otherwise, Public Enemy No. 1 may have remained unnoticed and could have gone on to rob many more victims, including Tucsonans.

DillingerDaysIt’s no wonder Tucson celebrates Dillinger Days as it does! This year, celebrate the Wild West by way of true “peacemakers” found in a Tucson Police Department that fired no shots, used no excessive force, but fairly captured and effectively arrested America’s most notorious outlaw of the era.

“It’s a lot of fun. It’s an interesting dramatization of a legendary event in Tucson’s history,” says Bob Lee, a supportive local who has attended the annual celebration, “Tucson police accomplished what ‘big city cops’ in Chicago couldn’t.”

Hotel Congress features Dillinger Days on Friday, January 23, and Saturday, January 24, 2015. The Speakeasy starts on Friday at 7pm, and $25 tickets benefit the Greater Tucson Fire Foundation.

The Speakeasy will offer every vintage luxury imaginable from whiskey tastings and cigars to the vintage car show. This is your chance to wear the 1930s version of yourself, to travel through time and inhale a bit of an era not entirely lost to a Downtown that embraces its history. There will be a turn of the century magic show, the Johnny Hot Shot Gun Show, and a pop-up memorabilia museum.

On Saturday, Dillinger Days festivities start early at 9am and offer something for the whole family. Every year the event draws a crowd from all over Tucson and surrounding areas. The crowd favorite is the reenactments, hands-down. At Hotel Congress, actors ham it up and make sure excitement fills the air as 1930s heroes take on the bad guys.

DillingerCarsCapture reenactments happen three times throughout the day amongst live music, historical walking tours and lectures, local brew, local art, over 100 vintage cars, historical artifacts, carnival games and two vintage fire trucks, including the truck present at the famous 1934 Hotel Congress fire.

Dillinger Days is an event that captures the essence of Downtown and “local.” Every year it takes a lot of people, effort, and talent to make this event possible, and locals and visitors alike show up to get a fix of the nostalgia of the Old West revived for a few days.

The Beer Garden at Dillinger Days features local craft beer by Borderlands Brewing Company as well as some offerings from other local breweries. The Cup Café offers customized 1930s eats as well as the usual unique, award-winning menu items. Themed art by world-renowned local artist Danny Martin will be featured. Live music by locals Kings of Pleasure and Desert Melodies as well as other acts will entertain. The magic shows are performed by local entertainer Kenny Stewart. The vintage cars are brought in by a supportive car-junky community made up of car lovers from all over the Southwest.

Dillinger Days is an event for people of all generations. It’s an opportunity to get lost in a world where fantasy and reality are so closely associated you may find yourself falling in love with a law man or a gangster, his vintage car, his peacemaker, and his dance moves. You might even sneak a glimpse of Wyatt Earp; after all, Tombstone is just down the road. But during Dillinger Days the magic of the Wild West will be found in Downtown Tucson at Hotel Congress. Everything you need for a complete 1930s experience will be at your fingertips and is just a car ride away on January 23 and 24, 2015.