I've had a lot of reasons to think about 1920's-30's era gangster culture over the past month. I finally got around to watching Public Enemies, learned what a sawed off "gangster gun" looked like on History Detectives, and last night I finished watching the final segment of the Ken Burns Prohibition special on PBS. Have any of you been watching that series? It really presented American History in an entertaining way!
I would also highly recommend seeing Public Enemies. You will learn so much about how the FBI was operating during the 1930s, and Johnny Depp did very well in his role as John Dillinger.
It was magical to be able to literally walk in the same steps that he took. You could almost feel him. I did feel him, not to be spooky or anything, but there were moments when I felt his presence. There were moments when I felt a certain level of approval from the guy.There is another interesting John Dillinger story out there. This story involves a theory that Dillinger was not shot dead in 1934, but instead went on to live a life in hiding. At first it sounds bizarre, but the more you learn, the more this theory makes sense. I found an excellent article claiming that although someone was shot that night in 1934, it wasn't Dillinger:
Film wrong! Dillinger not killed by FBI! Fact: Hoover coverup!
I would like to write more in depth about this theory, but I don't want this to turn into the never ending blog post! The Cliff Notes version is this:
There was a lot of pressure on the FBI to get Dillinger.
A man was shot dead by the FBI in front of the Biograph movie theater in Chicago in 1934. The FBI stated the dead man was Dillinger.
John Dillinger had blue eyes, while the dead man had brown eyes.
John Dillinger had scars and bullet wounds, while the dead man did not.
John Dillinger was not as heavy set as the dead man.
John Dillinger did not suffer from the rheumatic heart condition the dead man was shown to have had.
A local man went missing the night John Dillinger was shot.
When you have a little time on your hands, check out the entire article. I would like to hear your thoughts on it. The FBI has put together a list of Dillinger "myths" on their web site and lists this conspiracy theory as one of them. They don't go into disproving the points above, but they do state that the dead man had Dillinger's finger prints.
I also ran into this old video clip from 1985. There are a few John Dillinger ghost stories here as well as a few points from the conspiracy theory:
You don't get more 80's than that!
I am yet to meet a person who is not interested in John Dillinger or Al Capone. Gangsters are fascinating. During their time, they served as Depression era entertainment. Their stories may be even more popular today! I don't know if it's because I live in Wisconsin (which is next to Illinois and where Capone used to vacation), but almost everyone I know says they have an Al Capone connection. What's funny is that people want to have a connection to a gangster! Having a grandparent who knew the Capones seems to make people feel just the tiniest bit more exciting or dangerous.
I ran into quite a few Al Capone ghost videos, but the one I liked best, I could not post here. You'll have to visit this link to watch it:
Al Capone's haunted safehouse
The video is about one of the places Capone hid during the prohibition days. Speaking of prohibition, I learned from the Ken Burns special that Chicago was even more corrupt and dangerous than I thought it was during the 1930s, and that it was not at all difficult to get a drink in Wisconsin during that time. We even keep the speakeasy tradition alive in Milwaukee with the Safe House bar! You too can relive the daring days of Prohibition by walking into an old alley and knocking on the random door of a seemingly abandoned building. Just be sure you have the password or they make you do silly things! Anyway, here's the trailer for the Ken Burns Prohibition special:
For anyone who is curious about the 1920's-30's "gangster gun" I mentioned earlier, this is what one looks like:
These sawed off shotguns were shorter, and therefore easier to hide under a coat. They could also be used to shoot a person at close range. A man had called the History Detectives show to ask if the gun he had was a gangster gun. He had been told that it was used in The St. Valentine's Day Massacre. The History Detectives were unable to determine if it was fired that day, but said there was a definite possibility that it was.
By the way, the owner of this gun had to have its barrels changed, so that it would be legal. It is illegal to own an antique sawed off shotgun where this man lives, although different laws seem to apply to different areas. Of course sawed off shotguns have their own Wikipedia page like everything else, so if you need to check up on the rules for any reason...
The sawed off shotgun wikipedia page
It's difficult to imagine the world these gangsters lived in. Can you envision men walking the streets of Chicago with sawed off shotguns under their jackets, on their way to a hidden speakeasy in an alley somewhere? I can only imagine the fear of being caught or shot by someone else. Not that the lifestyle didn't have its glamorous and exciting moments too. There were mass amounts of money, fancy cars, nice suits, and of course lots of liquor. Still, the closest I want to get to the underground gangster life is watching movies and reading old ghost stories!