In 2012, Las Vegas welcomed a record number of 39.7 million tourists which exceeded the previous record set in 2007 by roughly 500,000. While Las Vegas continues to cultivate its reputation as an oasis for vacationing, gambling and attending conventions, perhaps few of its visitors ever stop to consider its violent and bloody origins. In the 1950s, this gambling mecca of the desert was a playground for some of American history's most ruthless and notorious mobsters.
The Mob Museum, located ironically in a renovated Federal courthouse in downtown Las Vegas, details the riveting stories of the gangsters who dominated America's consciousness during one of its darkest chapters. The narratives and events depicted in its exhibits and displays seem to illuminate an alien world in comparison to current American culture. Few members of today's young adult and adolescent generations could imagine what it was like to live in a country where popular, Robin-Hood-type gangsters such as Al Capone, John Gotti and the Gambino family blurred the line between good and evil and law enforcement struggled to invent new methods of investigation in order to pinpoint the whereabouts and activities of such criminals. Such a world would seem strange, indeed, to a generation accustomed to omnipresent surveillance cameras and the well-publicized spying of the NSA.
My initial impression of the exhibits and presentations of the Mob Museum was one of amazement at the detail of the profiles of mob bosses such as Al Capone and Lucky Luciano. I could literally feel the tension of the cat-and-mouse struggle between these underworld lords and the police and FBI as forensic technology had to adapt through inventions such as fingerprinting thanks to J. Edgar Hoover and the notions of law and order had to be stretched through procedures such as the Kefauver Committee hearings. The most educational aspects of the displays revolved around the glimpses into the law enforcement processes: the wiretapping and fingerprinting, the painstaking manhunt for human traffickers and the tracking of money laundering schemes. The displays detailing these processes should serve as an inspiration for children and adolescents who may want to enter law enforcement for generations to come. It is truly inspiring to see the lengths these law enforcement officials were willing to go through to end the Mafia’s reign of terror.
But, above all, I was left speechless at the display of the St. Valentine's Day Massacre wall. I was overwhelmed at the notion that such an innocent-looking artifact could have played such a key role in one of the bloodiest events in U.S. history. One of the great controversies of our time is the questionable lengths the government goes through to monitor criminal and terrorist activities. Anyone can turn on the TV news these days or browse through Youtube and find examples of pundits and activists who are increasingly bitter and indignant about the government’s monitoring of ordinary citizens’ Facebook pages and, in some cases, email letters.
While at times it seems the average citizen has precious little privacy, I believe it is an adequate price to pay to assure that an organized criminal world capable of such violence cannot develop so easily in today's society. The Mob Museum's lessons left an incredible impression on me that I look forward to sharing with my children someday. I would highly recommend that anyone interested in looking beneath the glamorized surface of organized crime history portrayed in Hollywood movies like The Godfather should witness its presentations and artifacts at least once in their lifetime.
The Mob Museum. Themobmuseum.org. Web.
Vegas Inc. “Las Vegas sets record with 39.7 million visitors in 2012”, February 8, 2013. Vegasinc.com. Web.