Column: A tour of the Mob Museum

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For most Americans, Valentine’s Day is associated with love and romance. An exhibit in an unusual Las Vegas museum remembers an altogether different Valentine’s Day story.

In 2002, the then mayor of Las Vegas, a lawyer who had previously defended local crime figures, decided that his city needed a museum devoted to organized crime and government efforts to fight it. Despite considerable opposition, his dream was realized in 2012 when the National Museum of Organized Crime and Law Enforcement opened in a renovated Depression-era federal courthouse on Stewart Street, 6 miles north of the strip. Designed by the person who designed Cleveland’s Rock & Roll Hall of Fame, the so-called “Mob Museum” is operated in partnership with the city. 

The second floor includes the actual courtroom where Sen. Estes Kefauver held hearings in 1950 and 1951 investigating organized crime in Las Vegas. Photographs and recordings from the hearings recreate the atmosphere of the time. Other exhibits feature notorious gang figures and those who pursued and prosecuted them.One particularly graphic exhibit includes photographs of the mutilated bodies of men killed in gang wars. Another exhibit includes a replica of an electric chair. The third floor, where the self-guided tour begins, includes the killing wall, reconstructed from the original bricks, from Chicago’s infamous St. Valentine’s Day Massacre. On Feb. 14, 1929, seven members and associates of the North Side Gang were lined up against the wall of a garage in the Lincoln Park area and shot by four men thought to have been members of Al Capone’s crime family. Red circles indicate where the bullets hit the wall. Nearby is a Colt revolver recovered from the massacre. In 2018, a speakeasy called “The Underground” was added in the basement, serving corn alcohol distilled on-site in a recreated pot still.

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