Old Sparky was the nickname condemned killers on Death Row gave to the electric chair. It was a well-deserved tribute. Nobody in history ever got over his or her first encounter with Old Sparky, the chair too hot to handle.
Las Vegas has many firsts, some of which have little to do with gambling. One of its most unique claims to fame is the National Museum of Organized crime and Law Enforcement, better known as simply the Mob Museum.
Located just two blocks from the Fremont Street Experience at 300 Stewart Ave., the museum sits in a building that once housed a courthouse and a post office. It also represents one of 14 courthouses where the late Sen. Estes Kefauver of Tennessee held a series of widely publicized hearings on organized crime in 1950-51 that nearly got him elected President of the United States.
While the Mob Museum has many attractions to lure people away from their favorite casino, here are just a few that I plan to visit during my stay at the Golden Nugget later this month.
THE BLOOD-STAINED WALL that became a part of American history at the St. Valentine's Day Massacre, when a roomful of Mafia members were shot down in cold blood by a rival gang posing as uniformed police officers.
AN AUTHENTIC TOMMY GUN that you can pick up, handle and even pretend to be Pretty Boy Floyd, Al Capone or a member of the Bonnie and Clyde team of bank robbers.
WIRETAPS USED BY THE FBI to entrap criminal suspects during their investigations of organized crime.
AN ELECTRIC CHAIR complete with leather straps and the metal cap that ensured the job of executing a condemned criminal would be completed without a hitch.
Visitors to the museum are charged a fee ranging from $10 to $19.95 depending on whether you are a student, visitor to Las Vegas or a local resident. From all the reviews I have read, the Mob Museum is well worth the charge of admission.
As you enter the building, you will be invited to watch a short film on the history of organized crime. In old Las Vegas, the Mob owned major interests in most of the major casinos when the town was young and growing -- the Stardust, the Riviera, Wilbur Clark's Desert Inn, the Thunderbird and many others.
Parents are advised that the museum contains photos of slain mobsters -- and some of them are pretty gruesome. You might want to tie a blindfold over the eyes of young children or leave them in the snack shop while you tour the rouges' photo gallery.
Another popular section contains photos of Hollywood actors who portrayed gangsters in films, including James Cagney, Edward G. Robinson, Spencer Tracy and others whose faces will forever be part of the Silver Screen.
Ironically, the man who first came up with the idea for a museum on organized crime IN 2002 was former Las Vegas Mayor Oscar Goodman who was an attorney for the Mob before he became involved in politics. Makes you wonder if the job goes with the territory, doesn't it?
Italian-American organizations at first opposed the idea while the Federal Bureau of Investigation supported it. One FBI agent who liked the concept was Ellen Kelton who later became president of the non-profit museum.
As you tour the old courthouse, you will be regaled with film clips and stories about Howard Hughes, the mega-billionaire who owned numerous Las Vegas casinos as well as a film production company; former FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover; gangster Al Capone; and Elliot Ness. Other exhibitions focus on how the mob skimmed profits from the Las Vegas casinos.
Before leaving the museum, you may want to don a pair of prison stripes or sit in the electric chair and have your photo taken -- with a number, of course.
Just make sure you give yourself plenty of time to tour the museum. There is much to see and remember, and one day may not be enough. I'll report more on the museum when I get back from my experience at the Golden Nugget. Good luck. Let the games begin.