Step into Dayton’s colorful history of gangsters, illegal liquor and law men

Exhibition at Carillon Historical Park focuses on 3 eras of Dayton history

An exhibition at Carillon Historical Park will transport visitors to a time when a secret knock opened the door to a speakeasy, brazen gangsters pulled daylight robberies and Dayton’s finest kept the citizens safe.

“Bootleggers, Bandits, and Badges: From Dry Times to Hard Times in Dayton, Ohio,” is sponsored by the Dayton Police History Foundation, Inc., and on view through November 2021.

Historical events as well as notorious crime and law enforcement figures are highlighted in three eras of Dayton history.

Among the rare artifacts on display are a restored 1930 Diamond T police wagon called a “Black Maria,” a vintage Colt Thompson submachine gun and the handcuffs slapped on gangster John Dillinger during his arrest in Dayton.

“The exhibit is not just about law enforcement and crime, it is about the culture of the time,” said Steve Grismer, a board member and historian with the police history foundation. “We go into great detail about entertainment, the automotive industry and various social movements.”

The temperance movement

The first portion of the exhibition, from 1860 to 1919, takes place during the temperance period.

The anti-alcohol movement was gaining traction across the country at the same time Dayton’s Metropolitan Police Force, the third police department in Ohio, was formed in 1867.

Among the displays that set the stage are an early Dayton police officer’s uniform coat with a Bobby-style hat and Dayton Police Badge Number 1, worn by Patrolman William Funk.

Beer bottles from Dayton saloons dating from 1880 to 1920 advertise Dayton’s Olt Brewing Company, Hollencamp Brewery, J.F. Oehlschlager and others.

A 1919 Ford Model T, a bootlegger’s ride, has been cleverly disguised into a truck carrying lumber with a hidden panel protecting barrels of liquor.

A collection of grim looking criminals, captured in black and white Bertillon cards used for police identification, are portraits of the past.

“I think visitors will be surprised to learn that the problems of Prohibition and organized crime and the gangster era were not just limited to Chicago and New York, but that Dayton played a role as well,” said Alex Heckman, vice president of Dayton History.

Prohibition and bootlegging

A 1921 AC Colt Thompson submachine gun highlights the second portion of the exhibit spanning the Roaring Twenties and Prohibition.

The “Tommy gun,” with its distinctive round drum magazine, was used by gangsters, but also by Dayton police and Montgomery County sheriffs to combat violent criminals during the era.

The weapon is among a variety of period artifacts including an orange crepe flapper dress with rhinestones and a 1932 Club Sedan Packard riding on wide, white “gangster walls.”

The rarely seen artifacts throughout the exhibition have been donated by the Dayton Police Department, the Montgomery County Sheriff’s Office, America’s Packard Museum, Jim Day and Esther Price Candy, Dayton History, Wright State University Special Collections and Archives and individuals in the community.

“This time period has fantastic clothing and cars. Everything has a romance to it,” said Heckman. “The music, the flapper hairstyles and dresses and the Packards, Cadillacs and Lincolns. The material culture is so neat.”

Great Depression heists

The final portion of the exhibition, spanning 1929 to 1941, tells the stories of notorious bad guys like John Dillinger, who was arrested in a Dayton boardinghouse visiting his girlfriend and Al Brady, who along with his gang, stole $75,000 of jewelry in a Dayton heist.

Visitors will also learn about the good guys.

Dayton police officer Russell Pfauhl is credited with arresting Dillinger in Dayton and tracking down Chicago mobster Bugs Moran in Kentucky 13 years later.

Chief Rudolph Wurstner, who earned the title “The Nation’s Dean of Police Chiefs,” brought cutting-edge technology to the department. His career lasted 47 years, following a timeline that spanned two World Wars, the Great Flood of 1913, Prohibition, the gangster era and the Great Depression.

The centerpiece is Dillinger’s 1932 Colt Super .38 automatic pistol confiscated when he was arrested in Dayton in 1933.

The pistol, displayed next to the handcuffs put on Dillinger when he was nabbed, was later inscribed to Chief Wurstner and given to him by his detectives.

A wooden bank teller’s window from the National Bank in New Carlisle robbed by Dillinger and his gang in 1933 is another tangible piece of history.

“You are looking at something that was actually at the location that John Dillinger was at and he may have touched,” Grismer said. “To me, it really transports you in a way that a picture cannot.”

Trailblazers of the Dayton police department

Dayton stories of the suffrage movement, manufacturing, politics, the economy and race relations are woven throughout the displays.

Special recognition is made for the trailblazers of the Dayton Police Department.

Dayton’s Bureau of Policewomen was formed in 1914 when the city manager hired Katherine Ostrander, a settlement worker from Chicago. Policewomen wore civilian clothing and could not carry a gun but were issued a badge.

Dayton patrolman William Jenkins was the first black officer on the force and served from 1898 to 1916.

The second black officer, Lucius Rice, was appointed in 1909 and was the first to be promoted to sergeant. His wife, Dora, became the first black woman sworn into the Dayton Bureau of Policewomen.

Grismer hopes the exhibition gives visitors a deeper understanding of the police officer’s role in Dayton.

“I want people to understand that the police are there to serve the community and to always serve the community regardless of what the circumstances are,” he said.


What: "Bootleggers, Bandits, and Badges: From Dry Times to Hard Times in Dayton, Ohio"

Where: Carillon Historical Park, 1000 Carillon Blvd., Dayton

Hours: Mondays through Saturdays: 9:30 a.m. to 5 p.m. Sundays: Noon to 5 p.m.

Admission: $12 per adult (ages 18-59), $10 per senior, $8 per child (3-17), children under 3 and Dayton History members free

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