Iconic Photos

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Close Encounters: David Douglas Duncan & John Dillinger

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[Don’t Adjust Your Screens. There is No Picture Here]

The story goes like this: for his 18th birthday, David Douglas Duncan, who would later grow up to be one of the most celebrated photographers of his day, was given a 39-cent Bakelite plastic camera. He was then studying archeology at the University of Arizona, Tucson.

On January 22nd 1934, at around 7:30 a.m., he heard on the radio that the Congress Hotel–the biggest hotel in Tucson–was burning. Having no classes that day, he ran down to the city from his fraternity house. There amidst the chaos, he saw a man in suspenders, “middle-aged, half-dressed, rather meek-looking fellow” who was convincing a fireman to let him reenter the hotel to retrieve his suitcase, which he dropped in one of the sections that hadn’t burned down yet.

The next day, Duncan saw headlines that America’s Public Enemy No. 1, the bank robber John Dillinger and gang were arrested at the Congress Hotel. The meek-looking fellow he photographed was John Dillinger, on whose request two firemen retrieved their luggage, thereby identifying who the gang was.

However, the photos Duncan shot that day were never published. He turned the film over to the Tuscon Citizen, which lost the film.

Written by Alex Selwyn-Holmes

January 20, 2010 at 5:04 am

2 Responses

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  1. Here is the link to a short interview with Judy Garland where she talks about meeting John Dillinger and getting his autograph outside the Biograph theater just a few moments before he was shot and killed:


    April 14, 2010 at 11:11 pm

  2. […] After a fire at a hotel in Tucson, Arizona, America’s public enemy number one, bank robber John Dillinger was arrested there. He was sent to back to Indiana to face trial for killing of an officer after his previous escape from jail, and prosecuted by Robert Estill, and Lake County Sheriff Lillian Holley. […]

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