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The Daily Wildcat

The Daily Wildcat


Dillinger Days brings the 1930s to Tucson

Dillinger Days returned to Hotel Congress again this year to honor the capture of notorious gangster John Dillinger by the Tucson Police Department and the Tucson Fire Department.

Friday night, the start of the two-day event, featured the Dillinger speakeasy, where participants dressed up, listened to music and tried the food and drink of the 1930s.

RELATED: Hotel Congress hosts Dillinger Days event

“We have all the great food and drink and whiskey tasting and all those things that are evocative of that era,” said David Slutes, entertainment director for Hotel Congress.

This was the fifth annual speakeasy. For the past five years, Hotel Congress has partnered with the Greater Tucson Fire Foundation, to which the proceeds from the event go.

Hotel Congress general manager Todd Hanley said the focus is to spread awareness about the foundation. The speakeasy has sold out the past two years, according to Hanley.

Speakeasy attendees had access to the private label whiskey Del Bac 1919, which was only available at Hotel Congress on Friday night. The whiskey was created in collaboration with Hamilton Distillers in Tucson. 

Hanley said Hotel Congress continues to set the trend for local creations whenever they possibly can.

Cameron Fisher was bartending during the speakeasy. Fisher, who has been with Hotel Congress for seven years, said he really enjoys the Del Bac 1919.

“This is my favorite holiday to work,” Fisher said. “Better than Halloween, better than New Year, better than Christmas or Thanksgiving or St. Pattie’s Day.”

Fisher said he loves watching downtown Tucson fall back in time during Dillinger Days.

“The streets are lined with old cars, and everyone is dressed to the nines,” Fisher said.

Krista Shultz, dressed in a black flapper-style costume, visited the event from Flagstaff. She said this was her first time at Dillinger Days and she was surprised how many people dressed up for the night.

“Seeing how many people are in costume and want to throw it back to the 30s, 20s era, it’s really cool,” Shultz said.

Friday night’s attendees were treated to live shows: a performance by the Dancehall Dames, a performance by the Kings of Pleasure and a gun show by Jonathan “Hotshot” Mincks, the man who has performed in re-enactments as John Dillinger for 23 years.

RELATED: Get to know the man who plays John Dillinger in Dillinger Days

Mincks displayed his gun-slingin’ ability during his performance and also included witty banter with the crowd. He even proved he could quick-draw his pistol faster than the audience could clap their hands. 

For other tricks, Mincks shot a deflating balloon as it flew through the air, and another behind his back while holding a mirror. He never dropped a gun during the whole show.

“Sometimes they fall, but I don’t drop ‘em,” said Mincks.

Fiances Yakov Fox and Natalie Schmitter have attended Dillinger days the past two years and said it has now become a tradition for them. They said they were both impressed by the gun show, although they were startled when Mincks fired off his first shots. Schmitter said it was neat to watch Mincks pop a balloon in the air as it traveled.

“We were looking at each other and all of a sudden we started hearing gun shots,” Fox said. “We didn’t know if we were supposed to duck and cover.”

The couple said they love the outfits, the music and the whole theme of Dillinger days.

Ella Fitzgerald could be heard through speakers in one room, and live jazz singers entertained folks in the bar across the hall. Men who weren’t wearing fedoras donned bowler hats or Homburgs; women who weren’t wearing Parisian-style hats boasted black-lace headbands.

“We came down to listen to the music of the era,” Helen Hinterberg said.

She and her husband, Mark, were at the speakeasy, and the couple danced the foxtrot and the swing at the event. Helen wore a red dress for the evening.

“She’s the lady in red, so I should be dead by the end of the weekend,” Mark said, alluding to the Romanian woman who is the center of a Dillinger myth. As the story goes, the lady in red, who Dillinger could not resist, betrayed him to authorities.

Saturday’s events featured re-enactments of John Dillinger’s capture.

Dr. Buck Montgomery played the roles of a detective and Danny the hotel manager during the reenactments. He said the best part of Dillinger Days is the participation of the audience.

“So many came out,” Montgomery said. “It’s great to see them dress up, play the part and enjoy the whole ambiance.”

This is the first year Montgomery acted in the Dillinger Days reenactment, although he said he performs with Mincks often.

“It’s part of our history,” Montgomery said. “The whole gangster era was strictly Americana.”

Montgomery said he enjoys the humorous representation of a real event that occurred at Hotel Congress.

Storm photographer and journalist Warren Faidley said many people don’t really remember that Dillinger was violent.

“It’s kind of like pirates over time; you kind of forget all their evil deeds, and it kind of turns into a romance,” Faidley said. “It’s weird how that works.”

The re-enactments told the story of Dillinger and his gang’s experience at Hotel Congress.

Along with re-enactments, Saturday featured drawings of Prohibition-era cars by Danny Martin in the Hotel Congress lobby. Martin said this was his third year having art in the lobby. He said he comes to Dillinger Days most years and enjoyed this year’s re-enactment.

“It’s great, people love it, they absolutely love it,” he said. “They dress up, they come down, it never gets old.”

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