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Dillinger Days ends with 'hootenany' at Hotel Congress

Reenactment, historic cars swing downtown back into '30s

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Shots rang out across the Hotel Congress Plaza on Saturday morning. Four men sprinted to a red car, carrying large leather suitcases and clutching machine guns. As the smoke cleared, spent cartridges on the pavement caught the light of the morning sun.

After the action stopped, patrons resumed eating at the hotel's Cup Café and the audience applauded. 

The gunfire was part of the Dillinger Days annual re-enactment of John Dillinger’s last robbery before fleeing to Tucson. The second half of the act detailed the gang’s capture after a fateful fire at Hotel Congress on Jan. 22, 1934.

Faux smoke poured from a second story window. The 1934 fire actually took place on the hotel's third floor, which was lost in the blaze, leaving Hotel Congress a two-story building.

Just hours before, Tucson Fire Department had to extinguish a real fire on the third story of a modern Tucson hotel — the Country Inn and Suites on Tucson Boulevard near the airport. No one was hurt, said TFD spokeswoman Trish Tracy, and no bank robbers were reported to be occupying the hotel.

At Hotel Congress, the audience was peppered with people in pearls, gowns, stockings and other 1930s attire.

Diana Lutz was with her husband, Lincoln Leavere, one of the actors of HotshotPerformer.com from Tombstone. A black hat with an oversized bow topped her royal-blue ensemble.

Lutz said getting a chance to "relive history”  is her favorite part of the event.

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At least 10 others from Tombstone also made the trek to Hotel Congress for the event.

“It's sort of like a reunion every year,” Lynn Barnes said.

She and her husband, George, have attended for at least the last six years to enjoy the festivities in costume, she said.

“We celebrate a criminal, but what the heck. We are from Tombstone,” Lutz said.

Others were tied more intimately to the celebration.

Dallas Ford Anderson’s grandfather was a motorcycle officer for the Tucson Police Department at the time of Dillinger’s capture. He was named after one of the detectives that helped bring in Dillinger’s gang.

He’s attended the event since it began. Anderson said he hopes to stumble across the relatives of Dallas Ford eventually.

Vintage cars lined Toole Avenue, many belonged to members of the Tucson Model A Ford Club. Also on display was the La France fire engine that responded to the Hotel Congress fire. The engine is being restored by the Tucson Fire Foundation and proceeds from the event were donated to the effort.

Further down the road, vendors sold roasted corn and barbecue among handmade goods. Kids could take their best shot at a variety of carnival games set up in the parking lot across the street at Maynard’s Market.

When the re-enactments started, everyone flocked to the plaza. After the chairs and bleachers were filled, people pressed against the bars hoping to catch a glimpse of the action.

David M. Felix, another performer, was happy to reunite with old friends for the re-enactment.

“It’s a blast, it’s hootenanny,” Felix said.

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Mariana Dale/ TucsonSentinel.com

The actors of HotshotPerformer.com burst out of the Hotel Congress in a flurry of gunfire during Saturday's Dillinger Days' performance.

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