A rarely seen pistol used by “Public Enemy No. 1,” the gangster John Dillinger, will be among the artifacts on display at an exhibit opening in the fall.
“Bootleggers, Bandits, and Badges: From Dry Times to Hard Times in Dayton, Ohio,” will open Oct. 28 at Carillon Historical Park.
The exhibit, sponsored by the Dayton Police History Foundation, Inc., will focus on a time in Dayton’s history when gangsters, speakeasies and lawmen collided for decades of drama.
“We picked this time in history because, rightly or wrongly, it’s the most romanticized period in law enforcement and criminal history,” said Steve Grismer, a board member and historian with the police history foundation. “It seems to be a period people are just fascinated by.”
The exhibit will begin at the start of the temperance movement and span the Roaring Twenties, the 1929 stock market crash, the Great Depression and end just before the start of World War II .
Worn in a holster on his hip, Dillinger’s Colt .38 pistol — taken from him when arrested in Dayton on Sept. 22, 1933 — is seldom seen in public.
“It’s very cool and very rare. This artifact started out on his crime spree that led him to be dubbed ‘Public Enemy No. 1’ by the FBI,” said Steve Lucht, a Carillon Historical Park curator. “I don’t know of anyone else who has a weapon like this from such a prominently known, folklorish kind of gangster in the United States.”
Among the other artifacts planned for display are the tools of the trade used by criminals and the police. The handcuffs Dillinger wore when taken into custody, a restored paddy wagon from the 1930s called a “Black Maria,” and a 1921 Colt machine gun used by the Montgomery County Sherriff’s Department are a sampling.
Bootleggers and gangsters like Al Brady, George Remus and George “Bugs” Moran flouted the law, Grismer said, and police tactics changed to counter a new era of lawlessness.
The exhibit will highlight local law enforcement including the two Dayton police detectives who arrested Dillinger and Dayton Police Chief Rudolph “Rudy” Wurstner, known as the “Nation’s Dean of Police Chiefs.”
The exhibition will open at the centennial of the Volstead Act – the law that enacted the 18th Amendment and ushered in Prohibition – and will be on view for two years.
Dayton History is interested in learning about any artifacts in the community related to law enforcement, crime and prohibition during this era. If you have an object you are willing to loan, contact Gwen Haney, Carillon Historical Park community collections manager, at firstname.lastname@example.org or (937) 293-2841 x114.
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