The mob is back in Las Vegas. (This assumes that the mob ever left.) Soon there will be two museums dedicated to gangsters of the past. You’d think that Las Vegas would want people to forget its mob origins. I’m sure the city of Santa Monica wouldn’t want to remind its residents that once there were vile people who actually smoked in front of their own homes.
However, Las Vegas’ mayor, Oscar B. Goodman (who has represented many alleged mobsters) is very excited about the “Las Vegas Museum of Organized Crime and Law Enforcement.” (No, this is not my April Fools Day column). The mayor is somewhat upset because there is a rival museum that is scheduled to open soon. According to The New York Times, this other one is subtly named the “Las Vegas Mob Experience.” I hope the forces behind the two museums don’t settle their differences like the people they honor did.
One of the folks involved in the Las Vegas Mob Experience is Antoinette McConnell, the daughter of Chicago crime boss — I mean, alleged crime boss — Sam Giancana. The place they have in mind will actually resemble a theme park more than a museum. One of the planned exhibits will be called, “Final Fate.” In this one, to get a feel for the way things were, a visitor has a chance of getting “whacked.” The little kids will love that one, won’t they?
Giancana’s daughter makes no bones, oops, no pretense about her father’s occupation. In fact, she says, “The Mafia is something people can’t get enough of.” When I close my eyes, I imagine how proud she’ll be when they cut the opening day ribbon with a knife that has been wiped clean of all fingerprints. It’s the kind of tribute that any daughter would like to give her late, beloved father.
I admit that I enjoyed going to Las Vegas back in the days that the mob ran the place. Allegedly. If you play blackjack today, your dealer is likely to be a pretty, young woman who decided to take that job instead of selling real estate. Back in the old days, it was a lot more exciting to have a scary looking dealer whose pinky ring was just slightly smaller than his head.
I’ve enjoyed watching movies and reading books about gangsters. I loved to watch “The Untouchables” on TV when I was a kid. However, in all of these earlier instances, the criminals were the bad guys. Maybe they fascinated us, but we weren’t building a tribute to them. As much as it might be fun to sometimes romanticize these people, they were criminals. They weren’t Robin Hoods. They were just hoods.
Mayor Goodman probably thought he had a way around this by not just naming the museum the “Las Vegas Museum of Organized Crime,” but adding “And Law Enforcement.” Yeah, right. Which exhibit do you think more people would be drawn to: one about John Dillinger being gunned down after he was lured to the movie theater by the “lady in red” or one that tells where F.B.I. agents buy their shoes?
So what’s behind these mob veneration ventures? What do you think? Money. The people who put together the deal for the Museum of Organized Crime and Law Enforcement were able to buy an old federally-owned building for only a buck. That’s because the building will be used for “cultural purposes.” The transported and rebuilt wall from the St.Valentine’s Day Massacre qualifies as culture? I guess it was between the crime museum and a new opera house.
Those behind these museums/theme parks hope they’ll bring in lots of money. They believe Las Vegas will get booming again because of interest in organized crime. Sounds like the old days. Like the old days, this gangster gambit has official support. Only this time it’s not under the table. The $42 million museum (the one the mayor likes) has been financed by state, federal, and local grants. And you thought the government wasted money on silly things.
But this is America, and I guess you can build whatever you want here. I know I’m not going to be the one to tell Giancana’s daughter that she can’t have what she wants.
Lloyd Garver has written for many television shows, ranging from “Sesame Street” to “Family Ties” to “Home Improvement” to “Frasier.” He has also read many books, some of them in hardcover. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Check out his website at lloydgarver.com and his podcasts on iTunes.