Street Smart Chicago

Hands in the Air: John Dillinger robbed banks for a living

Chicago History, Events, Lit Add comments

Although recent inquiries may prove that J. Edgar Hoover was not a transvestite after all, he still doesn’t have anything on John Dillinger, whose following, either from sheer devotion or anticipation for the release of Michael Mann’s newest feature, couldn’t be stronger. As far as Mike Flores, a local playwright, is concerned, “J. Edgar Hoover was a prude,” and tonight, perhaps all of Lincoln Station will agree, for today marks the seventy-fourth anniversary of John Dillinger’s untimely, unarmed death alongside the Biograph Theater at the hands of a sloppy FBI job.
At least that’s how the latest installment of the story unfolds by the ones who love to tell it. For the past several years, the “John Dillinger Died For You Society,” fronted by Flores and folklorist/ghost-hunter Richard Crowe, has been keeping the Dillinger tradition alive. “I became a Dillinger fan when I found out his real story,” Flores remarks, and the joke is on the FBI. However, until the real story is revealed at the 10pm ceremony in front of the Biograph Theater, where Dillinger was reported to have viewed his final talkie, fans and locals alike gather at the bar. A man in a kilt downs the last from his flask while enthusiasts talk about anything ranging from their MySpace fan sites dedicated to Chicago’s very own Robin Hood or about their first-hand experience as an extra alongside Johnny Depp on the set of Mann’s upcoming movie.
But when 10pm rolls around, the crowd is escorted to the front of the bar where a bagpipe procession leads a true “rebel” jaywalk across the street to the notorious theater in front of which Flores delivers Dillinger’s story, which, to put it frankly, isn’t what will be appearing on the silver screen any time soon. “If the new Dillinger movie had told the truth, it would have made an incredible impression on people and also let people understand the control that J. Edgar Hoover had over the media,” Flores proclaims. “We have been bullshitted so long about the Depression Era and are living in a matrix reality created by J. Edgar Hoover.” Slightly too intoxicated, or possibly indifferent, to rally at this statement, the procession meanders to the adjacent alleyway for a rendition of “Amazing Grace” sung painstakingly slowly to bagpipe accompaniment just before Crowe provides an account of first-hand paranormal experiences at the death site. Recapturing the audience’s attention, a line of ladies clad in red—dressed in the true fashion of Dillinger’s culprit Anna Sage—form a straight line hoping to bag a $100 prize. When the winner, aided by her sideline companion, is chosen after having answered a trivia question correctly, she is praised with an uproar of applause and an honorary pouring of a can of Miller on the hero’s death site. “Johnny Boy, we’re doing this for you!” (Elise Biggers)

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