I’m deep into the research of my next non-fiction book.  The subject is the most famous FBI agent very few people today have ever heard of.  This man was involved in the major kidnapping and gangster cases of the 1930s.  His picture was on the front page of newspapers across the country and newspapers hounded him for “breaking news” of his cases.  His response became a tagline that reflected, in part, his taciturn nature: “No comment.”  No, it’s not Melvin Purvis, most people’s first guess.

I spent a long weekend in January meeting with one of his granddaughters, going through years of collected memos, letters, photos, and more.  It’s hard to believe this man was forgotten by history after all he accomplished, but I’m delighted to be the one to bring his story back to life.

Part of the fun conducting historical research is digging into details of daily life:

– What kind of clothes did people wear (did men really wear suits to the office every day?)

– What kind of food did they eat (yes, the average portion size has increased over the last 80 years and there are foods like quinoa, tofu, and sushi that time travelers from the 1930s wouldn’t recognize)

– How people got around with transportation

This last topic has been the most fun to research.  You really have to erase everything you know about modern life and then let the details slowly filter back in – there were no interstate freeways connecting the country, many roads other than highways were dirt, trains were still a popular form of passenger transportation, and air travel hadn’t yet caught on in a major way (some people were afraid of flying, and though that hasn’t changed back then the reason was due to the new technology, not the blaring headlines about aviation accidents we see today).

I’ve never been a big classic car guy.  My dad can see any car from the 50s and 60s and identify it immediately.  Looking through the pictures of these 1930s cars, I can’t help feel the “retro-cool” these early models possessed.  I don’t know a lot about them, so if there’s anyone out there with an in depth knowledge about what these automobiles were like to drive, let me know.

chevycoupe1934 Chevy Coupe

John Dillinger’s 20 year old step brother, Hubert, drove this style car as he evaded FBI agents on the back roads outside Indianapolis in 1934.  It exudes speed and sleekness and it was fast – Hubert Dillinger lost the agents trailing him by “traveling a blinding pace.”


hudsondeluxe1934 Hudson Deluxe

Hubert and John Dillinger drove back from Liepsic, Ohio in this tear-drop fendered machine.  They had just dropped off money for the defense of gang leader Harry Pierpont who had been caught and put on trial.  Hubert fell asleep at the wheel.  They sideswiped an approaching car and wrecked on the side of the road.  Despite the evidence they left inside the car after fleeing the scene, FBI agents wouldn’t track Dillinger down until months later.

ford1934 Ford Sedan

The original PT Cruiser! From the rounded dome to the white sidewall tires, this car evokes the 1930s in every detail.  Probably my favorite looking car from the time period (and it’s a Ford, my father would be proud).  Dillinger purchased a similar car in Indianapolis while he was hiding out at his father’s farm, and two inexperienced FBI agents drove right past Public Enemy Number One while he was parked on the side of the road and standing at the rear of the car.

essexEssex Terraplane

Dillinger’s automobile of preference.  Rounded and very European in its look.  Also apparently very fast and good for eluding law enforcement.  Any time he escaped and needed new wheels, the first question he asked the automobile dealer was if they could get him one of these.

I know my readership is limited to a small group of friends and family, but if anyone with knowledge of these cars happens upon this post feel free to post a comment and let me know more about these classic cars.