Mob Museum

although not precisely what I expected (though on reflection, I’m not sure what I expected), the Mob Museum was very interesting. it sketches the history of mob-law enforcement conflict in the United States from approximately the Prohibition era to the recent past — up to and including the apprehension of Whitey Bulger in 2011.

the government sold the building in 2000 (for $1) with the stipulation that the new owners restored it to its original state and develop into a cultural site of some kind. the creative director of the resulting project previously brought the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame and the International Spy Museum to the masses while a non-profit board supervises the museum in conjunction with the city of Las Vegas.

as I mentioned previously, the second-floor courtroom was the space I found most interesting as it best retained its 1930s character. in 1950 and 1951, the courtroom hosted one in a series of dramatic public hearings about the state of organized crime in the United States — spearheaded by Tennessee Senator Estes Kefauver. resulting from the frustration of local governments at their inability to stem the growth of organized crime (often due in part to the rampant corruption among local politicians and police departments) the Senate Committee set out to address the problem as it pertained to interstate commerce, something over which the federal government claimed jurisdiction. an important component of the Kefauver Hearings were their televised nature — for the first time, Americans saw crime bosses responding to accusations and presenting their true natures, rather than gathering impressions through media reports.

in the courtroom, the judge’s bench has moved back to the north side of the room with bar and observer benches taking up the remaining space. three screens descend from the ceiling over the judge’s bench and a narrative of mid-twentieth century Mob courtroom drama is projected onto them.

the Museum boasts numerous other artifacts, some infamous, some pedestrian, some interesting, some disquieting. as we wound our way through the third floor, several of the other visitors to the museum seemed quite engaged by the more macabre displays on offer — notably the still blood-stained wall against which seven men were gunned to death in the St. Valentine’s Day Massacre, and a barber chair in which another mobster had his throat slashed. one woman in particular relished the opportunity to riddle a cutout with virtual bullet holes from a Tommy gun.

the Museum offered lots of information on an impressive array of topics — wire tapping, money skimming, gambling tricks, Mob killings, Mob hierarchy and succession, the Mob in movies (including a story of how a consultant on one film ended up recreating his own crime for the movie) — but, in the end, as an historian, I found myself wanting much more about the history of the Mob in Vegas. maybe I should have gone to the Nevada State Museum instead? (though their website does nothing to convince me I made the wrong choice.)