Experiencing History Vegas Style
By Monique Gaudin
“There is no substitute for being able to see an object that takes us back in time,” says museum executive director Jonathan Ullman about the visiting the Museum for Organized Crime and Law Enforcement, AKA the Mob Museum. Opening just this past February in Las Vegas’s first federal building, the old US Post Office and Federal Court House on Stewart Street, the director’s sentiment must be echoed, as the building has already surpassed 175 thousand visitors in eleven months.
“They brought in curators Dennis and Kathy Barrie of the International Spy museum, and the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, so they know how to do a museum, that reaches the public,” stated CSN History Professor Michael Green, a member of the content committee speaking to the exhibits within the restored courthouse. Dr. Green said the approach taken in developing the exhibits and the restoration, was that of the Historian as the Detective. “It involved, finding out what was here and talking to various people.” First hand accounts, donations, and purchases of artifacts were all an integral part of the process.
We try our best be as authentic as possible and at no time do we ever do anything that would glamorize, sensationalized, or romanticize criminal activity,” said Mr. Ullman “ We are very serious about our mission; advancing the public’s understanding of organized crimes historical impact on American society.”
There is a perception that the museum because of the name, and the city’s nefarious past, is all about glorifying gangsters. “Not so” said Professor Green, “Ellen Knowlton, ran the local FBI office and is involved in the non-profit foundation, or organization that runs the museum. And because of the FBI, it is not officially, the Mob Museum, it is the National Museum of Organized Crime and Law Enforcement.” Both sides of the law, good and bad, are represented.
Professor Green remarked on the value of the museum experience going beyond entertainment. “There is serious scholarship, both in the exhibits themselves, and in the books that are available.” Concurring with his assessment, Director Ullman stated, “Anyone who goes through the museum, will see that that the content is dense. With the interactives, all the graphic panels and the artifacts deeply layered, it would take literally days for you to complete it.”
In addition to providing an ongoing interactive experience to visitors, the museum offers special events such as the December 5th Repeal Day party celebrating the 82nd anniversary of the 1933, repeal of the 21st Amendment ending prohibition. In true Vegas style, a press conference was held in the morning, with the former Mayor Oscar Goodman commemorating; “A toast to Repeal Day, the greatest day in American history,” and inviting all to attend the evenings celebration spanning all floors of the museum.
The media kick off event. Footage courtesy J Dimmare
Attendees took in the exhibits while surrounded by characters of the thirties; cops, gangsters, flappers, booze, and jazz. Thrown in to set the scene, a soup kitchen, prohibition cocktails, and pictures in a line up, or with the former Mayor, in the very courtroom where he argued his first case, as a fledgling attorney.
Both Museum director Ullman and Professor Green state that it was Mr. Goodman, who was the driving
force behind the Mob Museum. “Oscar Goodman was mayor at the time, and had a wonderful vision for what this could be. The city always regarded the building, as it was, a public works economical development project. That this was somehow going to help with the revitalization of downtown,” said director Ullman.
With the success of the first year nearly done and the special programs attracting a greater audience base Mr. Ullman projects a diversified future. “The permanent exhibition is a wonderful foundation for the stories that we tell here, but there are all sorts of wonderful educational programmatic opportunities out there in the digital domain so to speak.”
Scroll over the numbers to view pictures of the court house through the years.