LINCOLN PARK — The John Dillinger Died For You Society marks the 83rd anniversary of the notorious bank robber's death Saturday evening across from the Biograph Theater where the criminal was gunned down by federal agents.
Lincoln Station, 2432 N. Lincoln Ave., plays host to the event starting at 7 p.m.
"It's part of the folklore" in the city's gangster past, Lincoln Station owner Benn Hamm said. "It's fun, though."
As every Chicagoan should know, Dillinger — declared "Public Enemy No. 1" by FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover — came to the city and was laying low after escaping from a jail in Crown Point, Ind., in March 1934. He was lingering in Lincoln Park with his girlfriend Polly Hamilton and her landlady, Anna Sage, a Romanian immigrant who also ran brothels.
Sage betrayed Dillinger's whereabouts to federal agents in exchange for their cooperation in halting deportation proceedings against her. They went to see the Clark Gable movie "Manhattan Melodrama" at the Biograph, 2433 N. Lincoln, on July 22, 1934, and Dillinger was ambushed by federal agents when he left the show.
Dillinger was gunned down in an alley just south of the theater. Two women were wounded in the gunfire — not Sage and Hamilton. Sage became known as "the lady in red" for tipping the feds off, although historians now insist she was wearing a white blouse and orange skirt that looked red in the theater's marquee lights that night. She later was deported.
Interviews with eyewitness accounts of the Dillinger shooting recently resurfaced online.
Lincoln Station will have a "Best Lady in Red" contest Saturday night with the winner getting gift certificates and Dillinger memorabilia. Lady in Red cosmopolitans and period drinks like Manhattans and highballs will be served as drink specials. Otherwise, the event is free.
Steve Sato will host, having taken over the chores from Richard Crowe, the Chicago ghost author who ran the Dillinger Day events until his death five years ago.
Starting at 8 p.m., Sato will discuss Dillinger's life and legacy with Ellen Poulsen, author of "Don't Call Us Molls: Women of the John Dillinger Gang" and "The Case Against Lucky Luciano: New York's Most Sensational Vice Trial."
Renowned Dillinger researcher Tom Smusyn will also participate.
They'll play "Manhattan Melodrama" "in the background," Hamm said, adding, "It's not that interesting" as a Depression-era B-movie, even one starring Clark Gable.
At 10:15 p.m. or so, a bagpipe procession will lead across the street to the Biograph and down to the alley where Dillinger was shot and killed about that same time.
The Dillinger Day commemoration goes on in large part because the Biograph is still standing, now as home to Victory Gardens Theater. Hamm said several tour groups a day stop by the Biograph to see the spot where Dillinger was killed.
The Dillinger Day proceedings were held across the street at the old Red Lion Pub until it closed in 2008, when they moved to Lincoln Station. According to Hamm, they had their biggest turnout the following year, when about 150 attended in the midst of the media mania over the Johnny Depp gangster film "Public Enemies."
Since then, Hamm added, about 30 to 40 people usually turn out for the annual event.
But the area recently lost another Dillinger haunt, the former site of Hi-Tops and before that the Gin Mill and Orphans on the corner with Montana Street at 2462 N. Lincoln Ave. In the '30s it was Club Biograph, and Dillinger supposedly was such a regular he insisted on sitting on the third stool from the end of the bar. The building recently was razed to put up two apartment buildings on the corner.
Hamm confirmed the building's owner used to come in to Lincoln Station all the time and tell tales of the "secret poker room" in back of Club Biograph where mobsters would play, including Dillinger, although he was not generally well-favored by the local underworld.
"Ironically, he wasn't even a gangster," Hamm said. "The gangsters hated him just as much as the FBI did for bringing the heat on them. He was just kind of a rogue."
But he'll always be identified with that block of Lincoln Avenue in Chicago, and on Saturday they'll once again mark the anniversary of his death outside the Biograph Theater.