Repost: The Legend of Dillinger’s Ding-a-ling

Continuing our Dillinger series in honor of Johnny Depp coming to Chicago to start as Dillinger in “Public Enemies,” here a bit on our very favorite piece of Dillinger lore.

In a 2008 post, I noted that to break out of prison with an obviously-fake gun, Dillinger must have had balls the size of church bells. Well, that’s actually not far off from the legend. Rumors have gone around for years that Dillinger had a 23″ member that is now on display at the Smithsonian. Here’s the picture of his corpse that started the legend:

Rigor mortis had set in, causing his arm to be bent at the elbow, creating this tent-like protrusion above his crotch. See how the onlookers (except for that one woman) look awfully impressed? It does indeed LOOK like he’s awfully happy to be on the slab.

Gangs at the Congress Hotel

Few of the older hotels in town have never had a murder – most of them have played host to at least one. The Drake had the “woman in black” murder that we wrote about here a month or so ago. There was a really grisly stabbing at the Palmer House in the early 70s that remains unsolved.

But the Congress has played host to a really inordinant amount of killings. We find out about more of them all the time – in fact, we’re always finding out strange things about it. One time there was a big party in the Gold Room in which a woman spoke at great length about how apples are evil. Another night in the 1920s something called a “Pagan Ball” was held there. And one time, Jane Addams of Hull House made a speech about Archer Avenue, home of Resurrection Mary, in the haunted Florentine Room – a regular Tic-Tac-Toe of Chicago ghosts!

Today, we’re reading up on how the Congress figures into gangland history. It was not, contrary to what some websites say, ever owned or lived in by Al Capone. Oral tradition has it that he played cards in a room near the Florentine Room, though, and a mysterious phone call made to him in Florida from the Congress Hotel half an hour after the St. Valentine’s Day Massacre shootings led to some arrests in the case. Capone certainly held meetings there, and once even had a guy held prisoner there for awhile, though guarding him was the sort of work he farmed out to others.

Before the gang wars really heated up in the mid 1920s, members of both the north side and south side gangs were living in the hotel at the same time. Vinnie “The Schemer” Drucci and “Greasy Thumb” Guzik have both been named among the residents, and Tony Genna of the The Terrible Genna Brothers was living in a $100 a night suite at the time of his own assassination.

It is not, however (and we’ve made a mistake here ourselves in the past) the hotel where the Dillinger gang was caught in 1933. That Congress Hotel was in Tucson. Chicago papers didn’t always specify this, which led to some confusion.

The most recent gang story there comes from 1993, when leaders of several street gangs held The National Gang Peace Summit a the Congress. It clearly wasn’t THAT successful, but no one was killed or anything. About 300 gang members gathered there, and the hotel was said to be “unfazed” by them.

So gangs have a long history of influence at the place. That one of them fired the a gunshot in or near the Florentine, the ghost of which we may have heard on two separate tours (so far), is hardly impossible.

Like going back in time

Last night, we had something on the tour that sure doesn’t happen every day: A Johnny Depp sighting.

One of the blocks down which we often travel has been rebuilt to look about as it did in 1934 for the filming of Public Enemies, a movie about John Dillinger, who was shot and killed on the block in the alley near the Biograph Theatre. I wasn’t on the tour last night, but apparently the bus went by and got a brief glimpse of filming in the infamous alley.

I’ve gotta say, the attention to detail on the set is FANTASTIC. They even went to the trouble of printing up old menus to put in the windows, and the barber shop has old detective story magazines sitting around! We rounded up a whole slew of set pictures this morning:

See our whole set of set pictures on flicker!

The Legend of Dillinger’s Ding-a-Ling

Continuing our Dillinger series in honor of Johnny Depp coming to Chicago to start as Dillinger in “Public Enemies,” here a bit on our very favorite piece of Dillinger lore.

In the last post, I noted that to break out of prison with an obviously-fake gun, Dillinger must have had balls the size of church bells. Well, that’s actually not far off from the legend. Rumors have gone around for years that Dillinger had a 23″ member that is now on display at the Smithsonian. Here’s the picture of his corpse that started the legend:

Rigor mortis had set in, causing his arm to be bent at the elbow, creating this tent-like protrusion above his crotch. See how the onlookers (except for that one woman) look awfully impressed? It does indeed LOOK like he’s awfully happy to be on the slab.

Once again, if the cast of “Public Enemies” wants to take the best tour in town, we’ll be happy to oblige!

John Dillinger’s Great Escape

In honor of Johnny Depp coming to town to film a Dillinger movie, Public Enemies, here’s a post about John Dillinger’s great escape. In 1934, Dillinger, America’s favorite bank robber, was imprisoned in Indiana, awaiting trial and a sure death sentence. But he carved a fake gun out of wood and used it to break out of prison, leading to a five month man-hunt ending in the infamous Chicago “shoot out” – which was actually probably either an assassination or a hoax, depending on who you believe – outside of the Biograph Theatre, which still stands on Lincoln Avenue.

Here’s a picture of the phony gun:

Dillinger must have had balls the size of church bells to pull a scheme like this – that gun wouldn’t fool anyone who looked at it for even a second. I’m no gun nut, but I don’t think the words “colt 38” are normally actually written on the side like that. According to most versions of the story, no one really SAW it – Dillinger stuck it in a guard’s back, said “stick em up!” and soon had acquired several REAL pistols from the guards.

The alley where Dillinger was shot is now between two Mexican restaurants and features of a mural of a guy playing a guitar. Until its recent touch-up job, the painting always made me want to say “hello, my name is Inigo Montoya. You killed my father. Prepare to die.” Here it is, pre-touch-up:

Incidentally, if the cast of “Public Enemies” would like a tour, we’d be happy to oblige 🙂