Public Enemy No.1 returns to Tucson

Gary Hayes shows off his handmade steampunk machine gun during Dillinger Days. Photo by Ana Ramirez


The year was 1934. Tucson was a small pueblo that was a whisper among small folks, until Public Enemy No.1 John Dillinger decided to come and lay low from the law.

Hotel Congress proudly celebrated its annual Dillinger Days, which pays homage to the capture of Dillinger and his gang. This year is the 77th anniversary of Dillinger’s arrest.

Dillinger Days offered a variety of fun activities. From a vintage car show to a live reenactment of Dillinger’s capture, Hotel Congress guaranteed an afternoon of entertainment.

The vintage car show was held on Toole Street, behind Hotel Congress. Watching the vintage cars flood the street as a live jazz band performed in the background seemed to place Tucson back in the 1930s.

Ray and Sandy Feierstein were the event coordinators for the vintage car show.

“This has been the seventh year that we have done this event, and people seem to enjoy the wide range of classic cars,” Ray Feierstein said. “Many of the cars that are on the street are cars that Dillinger and his gang drove during that time period. It makes the event more authentic and historically accurate.”

Dillinger Days also offered tours of the hotel, with a brief history lesson.

Hotel Manager Dara Oseran led a tour explaining the history of Hotel Congress, and how Dillinger and his gang were apprehended.

“Dillinger and his gang came to Tucson to ‘lay low’ after the robbery of the First National Bank,” Oseran explained. “They checked into the hotel under aliases. While being guests at the hotel, a fire broke out on the third floor. The gang were later recognized and arrested. The most interesting part was that not one single shot was fired.”

Oseran also explained that there would not be a gunfight, unlike previous Dillinger Days, due to the shooting on Jan. 8 that killed six people and injured 13, including U.S. Rep. Gabrielle Giffords.

The audience responded most to a reenactment held in the hotel’s courtyard. Hired actors kept the audience glued to their seats with robberies, fighting, drinking and humor.

Actors also got audience members involved by picking them out of the crowd, and teaching them popular dances from that era.

Jonathan Mincks, who portrayed Dillinger, stole the show with his confidence and appeal.

Mincks believes Tucsonans enjoy the show because it happened in their own backyard.

“The historic aspect of what happened 77 years ago is something that the public shares. Most of the movies that cover Dillinger seem to leave out when he was arrested in Tucson, or just skim over it,” Mincks said. “It’s a very important part of the story of John Dillinger, and many of the people enjoy the history of the show.”

Actor Jonathan Mincks portrays John Dillinger during a reenactment. Photo by D.J. Ochoa
A Dillinger Days band wearing 1930s-era clothing performs in the open-air courtyard at Hotel Congress on Jan. 22. Photo by Ana Ramirez

Dillinger Days video by D.J. Ochoa

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