Vegas mob museum opens on anniversary of massacre

Tue Feb 14, 2012 3:16pm EST
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By Timothy Pratt

LAS VEGAS (Reuters) - Valentine's Day in Las Vegas this year isn't about hearts and roses; it's about Tommy guns and mobsters.

The National Museum of Organized Crime & Law Enforcement, or the Mob Museum for short, opened to the public on Tuesday after five years of work, $42 million in public funding and generous donations of gangster artifacts -- some from people who prefer to remain anonymous.

In about 17,000 square feet of exhibits, including the brick wall that absorbed bullets aimed at seven mobsters in Chicago's infamous 1929 St. Valentine's Day Massacre, the museum attempts to tell "both sides of the story" of organized crime in America, and how it came to shape Las Vegas.

The stately downtown building that houses the museum was part of that story. A former federal courthouse, it was one of 14 sites for the 1950-51 Kefauver Committee hearings, a Senate investigation into the mob and its influence on the nation's economic, political and cultural life.

At the entrance to the repurposed site, a black and white photo half the size of a billboard hangs to the left. It's of a toe, with a white tag. The tag reads: "Homicide. Benjamin Siegel. 810 Linden. Beverly Hills."

That would be "Bugsy" Siegel, the gangster figure familiar to many through Warren Beatty's portrayal of him in the 1991 film, "Bugsy," about the mob's role in the birth of the Las Vegas Strip.

So begins the journey the Mob Museum takes visitors on, an arc from the 1930s to the 1980s, when organized crime was defined by family and ethnic affiliation, and law enforcement and the justice system evolved as institutions focused on curbing its influences.

Along the way are displays of Prohibition-era whiskey flasks and Kennedy-era FBI wiretaps. There is also a page from Meyer Lansky's accounting ledger and suits worn by fictional HBO mob boss Tony Soprano.   Continued...

<p>An exterior view of The Mob Museum in Las Vegas, Nevada February 13, 2012. REUTERS/Steve Marcus</p>