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  • By Ken Perrotte

Neon and the Mob - Must Be Vegas Baby!

Updated: Nov 9, 2020

Hacienda Sign near Fremont Street Experience

Before monolithic hotel/casinos dominated Las Vegas’ landscape, smaller, more intimate venues along Fremont Street and a mile south beckoned. Sinatra and the “Rat Pack” ruled. Neon called players to casinos. The mob (so I’ve been told) managed the action.

Two museums help visitors understand this Vegas of old.

The Neon Museum, sometimes called the Neon Boneyard is north of old downtown, on a two-acre lot. The museum interior is the restored La Concha Motel lobby. On display outside, in varying states of condition, are rescued signs from historic venues, most long demolished. Hour long docent-guided tours of the Neon Boneyard are available every day, weather permitting. Guides give a history of the signs and of Vegas itself. The oldest sign is believed to be from the “Green Shack,” a restaurant with a history dating to 1929. Other cool signs include the ones that graced the Stardust and Sahara casinos, a “Wedding Information” sign once at McCarran airport, Liberace’s neon sign, and a looming, pool-shooting figure museum staffers call “Mullet Man.” Outside the museum complex, nine restored signs are positioned on a walking tour as public art in downtown Vegas. One, the iconic horse and rider from the Hacienda, is at the intersection of last Vegas Boulevard and Fremont.

Closer to the Fremont Street area is The Mob Museum, The National Museum of Organized Crime and Law Enforcement. It’s located in the old federal building. I thought I’d breeze through in an hour, but ended up spending nearly three hours checking out the superb exhibits on the museum’s three floors. The informative museum features concise displays, excellent artifacts and compelling, short videos, including one in the actual second floor courtroom where Tennessee Senator Estes Kefauver held in 1950 one of his high-profile hearings about mob activity. Other highlights include a video presentation at the actual, reconstructed brick wall where seven members of Bugs Moran’s gang were gunned down by Al Capone’s thugs during the St. Valentine’s Day massacre. Other exhibits dig into the shadowy world of organized crime, its prohibition-era origins and heyday, and the law enforcement tools and techniques used to bring down mob bosses and wise guys. Being Vegas, a second floor bar offers beer and drinks -- just behave or you might get whacked.

Neon Museum tickets are $18 general admission/$12 military & veterans. Mob Museum tickets are $23.95 general/$17.95 military.

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