The Mob, Syndicate, Mafia, Mobsters, Gangsters, Goodfellas, Wise-guys, Cosa Nostra or even Organized Crime “Family”. Known by many different names, they’ve had a large part in building this country. Now, along with Law Enforcement, they have a museum to show just how large that piece of history was.
On Feb. 14th 2012 “The National Museum of Organized Crime and Law Enforcement” opened, where else but, in Las Vegas Nevada.
On Feb 13th I had a great opportunity to preview downtown’s latest attraction, and Las Vegas’ newest museum.
The 41,000-square-foot Mob Museum includes approximately 17,000 square feet of exhibition space on three floors in addition to a special event areas, educational areas and office space.
The museum is in easy walking distance from The Fremont Street Experience. Located in the original United States Post Office for Las Vegas, and Federal Courthouse of 1933. Now, a nationally registered historic building, this seems like the perfect place for their story to be told.
Entering the museum you see all untouched original structure. We were told nothing could be changed structurally to this building and still keep the historic registry. All walls and rooms had to remain intake. No removing or adding permanent walls or rooms was allowed. There were panels in place through out which provided extra walls and barriers between exhibits but nothing significantly different between the look of the building when the all-important Kefauver trails happened in 1950 and now.
First floor begins with a wall of notable names in Mob history, each showing a video synopsis of their role in organized crime through they years.
I would suggest starting at the top. Third floor is where it all begins, with the timeline of Mob history including the families coming to this country, through prohibition, and on to the involvement of J Edger Hoovers and Elliot Ness.
One of the first areas contains an entire lineup room; just to get the museum goers in the right mood. The lineup room has an interactive voice coming from one side of the wall, giving line up orders to visitors. (Stand straight, Turn around, Raise your arms, etc).
There’s a room replicating a saloon of the late 1800’s. The saloon walls contain pictures of Wyatt Earp standing along side law enforcement officers from his era as well as old gambling memorabilia, pictures and artifacts.
Next is one of the museums “signature” exhibits, the wall from The St Valentines Day massacre. The room contains the actual wall the seven men were shot in front of, complete with bullet holes. Each brick was labeled and cataloged before shipping it to the museum, where it was pieced together brick by brick to exact measurements. The wall is behind a very large, clear thick glass window, which shows a video of the walls history on it. A few other interesting items on third floor included a replica electric chair from Sing Sing Prison, a Tommy Gun of the prohibition era, and a interactive restaurant settings inspired by Mafia family sit downs. The interactive restaurant setting was (one of many) touch screen interactive displays contained in the museum. There’s an hours worth of looking around on the third floor if you’re a mafia enthusiast or historian of any level.
2nd floor is the actual floor containing the Courtroom where the Kefauver trials took place. Outside the Courtroom are the waiting rooms entirely intact as they were in 1950-1951 during those trials. The Courtroom itself has 2 enormous screens telling the story and showing video and stills of those days and interviews of persons involved. The seats, Judges bench, windows and witness tables are all original as was the historic buzz and feeling I got in there. The room is to illustrate the meaning of the trials and show who were the involved parties. Exiting this room can only be done through the exact corridors that mobsters had to exit through while pondering their fate.
After leaving the courtroom you will find the exhibit dedicated to Sin City and the role the Mafia played in shaping Las Vegas. There’s plenty of Bugsy Segal, Meyer Lansky, and Sports-book innovator Lefty Rosenthal stories and even a display of Ex-mayor Oscar Goodman memorabilia and pictures from his real life “Goodfellas” and “Casino” days, as a Mob lawyer.
From the El Cortez to the Stardust Casino, Las Vegas is fully represented in rooms on the 2nd floor with interactive craps table and glass cases full of early casino and hotel merchandise, pictures and gaming items. One of my favorite displays on this floor was the replica of a “count room”. The count room display told how, why and where the “SKIM” started, and what it meant to the Mafia families. (see movie Casino for further explanation). Down the hall is a display of how the gaming commission began and what it meant to legalize it all in Nevada. There’s a great Howard Hughes display and a great ”Missing Person in Mob History” (ie Jimmy Hoffa) exhibit on 2nd floor as well.
One item that I found interesting was a small theatre with a mature audience warning on the entrance. The theatre shows a graphic and violent short film on mob violence, including pictures of dead bodies and bloody scenes from police investigations etc. The sign is to warn parents before their children enter, so they can go through the by passing exit to the stairs or elevator leading back to the first floor.
First floor contained mostly law enforcement exhibits and police technique displays of evidence, lineup photos, mug shots, and surveillance videos. The massive amounts of paper work and evidence props are displayed to help people understand the intense man-hours and extreme conditions officers went through to bring these men to trial. One display is a large crate once used for surveillance of Mafia action in warehouses,(complete with a peek hole), another is a large touch screen of real mug shots and the stories behind them. There are real wiretap conversations and pieces of evidence prosecutors used to bring down Mafia families on this floor as well.
Towards the end of the tour is an area dedicated to the “Memories” of the Mob. The room contains pictures with sort of a Poker Wall of Fame feeling much like the one at Binions. There’s a room asking the question “where do old Mobsters go?” then revealing most either die or are put in witness protection until they die.
Finally there is a theatre with plush (James Mont inspired) furniture and fixtures. This theatre shows another movie about The Mafia in films and how they have influenced Hollywood through out the years.
Oh wait…. we aren’t done, of course this is a major Vegas show and attraction so there has to be a gift shop, right? Yes there is and its full of Games, movies, books, posters, shot glasses and t-shirts with great slogans such as “I saw nothing……..at the Mob Museum in Las Vegas.” FYI, Adult shirts were 2 for $30.
Admission to the museum is $18 for adults $12 for children 5-17, and students are $14. If you are a Nevada resident (any age) you will only pay $10, which I think is a great idea to keep locals coming to the Museum. There’s ample parking next to the building so that wont be a problem. Plenty of bathrooms so take your time and don’t skip anything.
The museum is well designed by Gallagher and Associates, the same group that put together the new Grammy Museum, the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, the Kentucky Derby Museum, and the National World War Two Museum. (Among others).
The Mob Museum is a $42 million construction project funded by the city of Las Vegas and nearly $9 million in federal, state and local historic preservation grants. It is run by the 501 (c) 3 non-profit 300 Stewart Avenue Corporation.
Not everyone on my groups walk through and picture taking fest seemed to think a Mob Museum is what should be going in the downtown area, or in Las Vegas at all. One lady was grilling Ex-Mayor Goodman about his role and which side he was on, and made it clear she didn't think Mobsters brought anything productive to Las Vegas. In Oscars defense he had a well thought up rebuttal of how some members of crime families, in our community, have even won awards and had schools named after them etc..(see video)
I definitely left out more than a few items and exhibits contained in the museum. The tour we took was abbreviated but very informative, but this, easily, could be a two or three hour attraction. I’ll happily spend the $18 dollars, and walk through this museum again. Maybe next time Ill buy that shirt. The one that read ”Keep Calm, Speak Easy” or “There is no such thing as a Mob Museum, nor have I been there”.