A gangster museum is slated to open in Las Vegas that will feature some of the most notorious and influential figures — Bugsy, Lefty and Lansky to be included among them. The mob museum will feature the major role mobsters played in advancing Las Vegas to become the gambling capital of America and bringing the city its glitz and glamour during the 1940′s through 1950′s.
“Let’s be brutally honest, warts and all. This is more than legend. It’s fact.” said Mayor Oscar Goodman, a former defense attorney whose clients included mobsters Meyer Lansky and Anthony ‘Tony the Ant’ Spilotro. “This is something that differentiates us from other cities.”
The FBI supports the venture which is also guided by a retired FBI agent. They declare they’re involved since you can’t tell the stories of Benjamin ‘Bugsy’ Siegel, his banker, Lansky, casino boss Frank ‘Lefty’ Rosenthal and others without telling the tale of the lawmen who pursued them.
The undertaking has gained the support of the FBI and is guided by a retired FBI agent. They say they are involved because you can’t tell the stories of Benjamin “Bugsy” Siegel, his banker, Lansky, casino boss Frank “Lefty” Rosenthal and others without telling the story of the lawmen who pursued them.
“This is a way to connect with the public and show the results of our work.” said FBI spokesman Dan McCarron from Washington.
Retired FBI agent Ellen Knowlton, formerly in charge in Las Vegas in 2006, and now leads the not-for-profit museum organization, said FBI officials have offered to share photographs, transcripts of wiretaps and histories of efforts to kneecap organized crime in the 1950′s, ’60′s and ’70′s.
“Despite the sort of edgy theme, this museum will be historically accurate and it will tell the true story of organized crime.” said Knowlton. “The plan is to give people a kind of gritty taste of what it would have been like to be not only a person involved or affiliated with organized crime, but also what it would have been like to be in law enforcement.”
The museum is slated to open by 2010 in a 3-story brick federal building that was the centerpiece of Las Vegas when it opened in 1933. Ironically, the building hosted a hearing in 1950 by Tennessee Senator Estes Kefauver’s special investigating committee on the rackets.
Goodman, who played a cameo role in the 1995 Robert De Niro — Joe Pesci movie ‘Casino,’ has been pushing the notion of a mob museum to play up Las Vegas’ gangster past since he was elected mayor in 1999.
He negotiated a deal for the city to buy the building for $1 in 2000 with expectations to convert it into cultural center. Final cost is projected to reach nearly $50 million. About $15 million has been raised through grants, city funds, contributions and the sale of commemorative license plates for Las Vegas’ centennial in 2005.
Siegel pioneered the transformation of the former desert stopover into a glitzy tourist mecca, opening the $6 million Flamingo hotel on the Las Vegas Strip in 1946 with financial backing from Lansky. He was ‘rubbed out’ 6 months later in Beverly Hills, California, possibly because he angered the mob with cost overruns on the hotel.
Spilotro and Rosenthal were associates in the 1970′s, when Rosenthal ran several casinos, including the Stardust. Spilotro was killed in 1986 and buried in an Indiana cornfield.
Organized crime was eventually driven out of Las Vegas in the 1970′s and ’80′s by the FBI, local police and prosecutors, state crackdowns and casino purchases by corporate interests.
Many of these stories have been dramatized by Hollywood in such movies as “Bugsy,” “The Godfather” and “Casino.” But documenting mob history isn’t going to be easy.
Scores of these tales have been sensationalized by Hollywood in movies like ‘Bugsy,’ ‘The Godfather’ and Casino,’ but documenting mob history won’t be an easy task.
“If anybody out there finds a memo saying, ‘To the boys, from Meyer. Re: Bugsy. Kill him,’ we’d love to have it.” said Michael Green, a College of Southern Nevada history professor who is researching exhibits for the museum. “But we doubt it’s there.”
“Because of that, you have to do a lot of reconstructing, inferring and implying.” he said. “There’s a lot of winking we’re going to have to do.”
Green mentioned accounts of Moe Dalitz, a Cleveland businessman who rescued the Desert Inn and Stardust casinos in the 1950′s and ’60′s and built a hospital, golf courses and shopping centers.
“Was he tied to the mob or involved with the mob? Yes.” Green said. “A mobster? Harder to explain.”
Dennis Barrie, who designed the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in Cleveland and the popular International Spy Museum in Washington, said he will design the museum to show how organized crime and the fight against it shaped modern life.
“Whether it’s running the casinos in Las Vegas, or controlling cigarette sales or numbers or trash collection in any city, organized crime is part of the American culture.” Barrie said. “Everybody has a mob story or a brush with the mob world. Or they at least say they do.”
Visitors could be asked to decide which side of the law they want to be on, and given a story line tracing the life of a famous lawman, mobster, street cop or numbers runner.
“Were you a hit man? Were you a prosecutor? What choices do you have to make?” Green said. “We’re telling a story of things that are multisided.”
Possible plans include an oral history area where visitors “can sit down in front of a camera and say, `I knew Bugsy,’ or `I saw Meyer,’ or whatever.” he said.Tags:Anthony Spilotro Bugsy Frank Rosenthal gangster gangsters Lansky Las Vegas Lefty mob mobs mobster mobsters Moe Dalitz museum museums odd Rosenthal Tony the Ant