Celebrity bank robber John Dillinger died on this date, 75 years ago. In honor of the iconic American outlaw, Oxford University Press posted a blog entry about Dillinger's reportedly massive penis, rumored to be stored in formaldehyde at the Smithsonian. The post was penned by Brown University professor Elliott J. Gorn, author of Dillinger's Wild Ride: The Year That Made America's Public Enemy Number One. From OUPblog:
The story of Dillinger’s legendary proportions originated with a morgue photo that circulated just after he died. There he is on a gurney, officials from the Cook County Coroner’s office gathered around, and the sheet covering him rising in a conspicuous tent at least a foot above his body, roughly around his loins, though truth be told, it looks more like where his naval should be. Probably his arm, rigid in rigor mortis, was under the sheet. No matter. It looked like he died with an enormous hard-on. Newspaper editors quickly realized how readers interpreted the photo, withdrew it, retouched it, then reprinted it in later wire-service editions, with the sheet nice and flat against the dead man’s body."Is It True What They Said About John Dillinger?" (Oxford University Press, thanks Megan Branch!)
But the damage was done. Soon, Dillinger’s likeness appeared in crude pornography. Mostly, however, rumors of his enormous manhood persisted in oral tradition until roughly thirty years after his death, when it congealed into the urban belief tale centered on the Smithsonian.
In a literal sense, the story is almost certainly not true. Dillinger’s autopsy reported nothing unusual about the man. Government workers just look perplexed when asked about the legendary object. No one has ever produced substantial proof that the famed member exists.
Wild Ride: The Year That Made America's Public Enemy Number One by Elliott J. Gorn (Amazon)
David Pescovitz is Boing Boing's co-editor/managing partner. He's also a research director at Institute for the Future. On Instagram, he's @pesco.