Editor's Note: Tucson celebrates Dillinger Days every year in front of the Hotel Congress. 2019 will be January 18 & 19. It's a hoot.
John Dillinger robbed banks. To many, he became a popular folk hero, not unlike train robber Jessie James back in the 1880’s. In the Great Depression, banks were extremely unpopular with the American public. Banks foreclosed on poor farmers and homeowners. Even worse, banks went belly-up, taking their depositors savings down the tubes with them. My grandfather lost all his life's savings when a bank in San Bernardino, CA failed.
In a Letter To The Editor, one citizen of the Depression wrote:
“I am for Dillinger. Not that I am upholding him in any of his crimes; that is, if he did any. Why should the law have wanted John Dillinger for bank robbing? He wasn’t any worse than bankers and politicians who took the poor people’s money. Dillinger did not rob poor people. He robbed those who became rich by robbing the poor. I am for Johnnie.”
Millions of Americans felt the same.
John Dillinger was a celebrity bank robber. Whether or not people approved of bank robbing, they liked reading about his exploits; his amazing getaways and unbelievable prison escapes. They wanted to believe that he never hurt anyone who was not shooting at him. He was handsome and possessed a quick wit; whether he was being interviewed by the press or robbing a bank.
During one robbery, Dillinger saw a poor farmer near some bills on the bank counter. Dillinger asked the farmer if that money was his. “Yes sir”, came the reply. To which Dillinger told him to keep it. “We don’t want your money … only the bank’s money.” From that exchange, the public began to think of him as a kind of Robin Hood. (He was fairly generous with his father and family, and more so with his girlfriends. But it was not like Dillinger to give generously to strangers.)
He wore fine clothes and drove high-powered automobiles; luxuries hardly anyone could afford back then. In his dashing way, he continually outsmarted the law. After a successful robbery, he and his gang lived life large … all-night parties, theaters, ballrooms, horse races, expensive accommodations. These outlaws were envied, even admired. Their lives were exciting at a time when almost every American was experiencing humiliating poverty, mind-numbing boredom, and a sense of foreboding or failure. The public lived vicariously through John Dillinger's exploits.Read More