Mysterious America

Hotel Congress’ Enigmatic Room 242

Located at the corner of Toole Avenue and Congress Street in downtown Tucson, Arizona, the Hotel Congress has had an interesting history, including a brush with the notorious outlaw John Dillinger. Dillinger’s ghost, however, is not believed to reside there. Instead, visitors have reportedly encountered the ghost of a former handyman, as well as a forlorn woman who haunts Room 242. These apparitions are only a few of the nightly attractions at the Congress. Club Congress is considered to be one of the 10 best rock clubs in the United States, and for over thirty years has served as a showcase for downtown Tucson’s creative community.

Hotel Congress was designed by William and Alexander Curlett, who designed several buildings that are currently listed on the U.S. National Register of Historic Places. It was built in 1919 and contains four different bars. One of these, the Tap Room, has been open continuously since 1919. The Tap Room has been called “the drinking man’s Louvre” because of its collection of works by western artist and rodeo cowboy Pete Martinez. It is the largest private Pete Martinez collection in the country.

John Dillinger
John Dillinger

Most famously, Hotel Congress was the catalyst for the capture of John Dillinger in 1934. On January 22, 1934, a fire broke out in the basement of the hotel and spread up the elevator shaft to the third floor, where Dillinger and his gang were staying under aliases. After they escaped the fire, they bribed several of the responding firemen to return to their rooms and rescue several heavy suitcases, which were filled with guns and cash. The firemen recognized the gang and reported them to police, who captured them in a home on North Second Avenue. On being arrested, Dillinger reportedly muttered, “Well, I’ll be damned.” Dillinger was transferred to a jail in Crown Point, Indiana, where he escaped before being ultimately gunned down in Chicago later that summer.

Surprisingly, Dillinger’s spirit is not believed to haunt the hotel. According to the Tucson Weekly, guests may encounter two ghosts: that of a former handyman and a disturbed woman who appears to be confined to one of the rooms. “According to hotel employees, Vince, a handyman who lived in the hotel for 30 years, used butter knives from its restaurant as screwdrivers, and they inexplicably materialize around the hotel,” Joie Horwitz wrote. “Another ghost rumored to inhabit the hotel is that of a woman who shot herself in the head while staying in Room 242. Numerous guests have since reported her sitting on the edge of the bed late at night.”

At the center of Tucson nightlife, Hotel Congress remains as popular today as it was when Dillinger chose to hide out there more than 80 years ago. Come for the live music, art, food, and spirits, stay for the ghosts. At this cultural jewel, you never know what you might encounter.


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