Vegas Museum Offers A Mob History You Can't Refuse Exhibits at the Las Vegas Mob Museum explore the notorious, 20th-century rivalry between coppers and mobsters. Visitors can listen to wiretaps, practice FBI-style surveillance, spray pretend bullets from a Tommy gun and even participate in their own police lineups.
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Vegas Museum Offers A Mob History You Can't Refuse

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Vegas Museum Offers A Mob History You Can't Refuse

Vegas Museum Offers A Mob History You Can't Refuse

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  • <iframe src="" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
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From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Audie Cornish.


And I'm Melissa Block. At a new museum in Las Vegas, you can listen to wiretaps, practice surveillance, and spray pretend bullets from a Tommy gun. It's the Mob Museum, and it tells the story of how the mob helped create Las Vegas. From member station KJZZ, Jude Joffe-Block went in search of the history of organized crime.

JUDE JOFFE-BLOCK, BYLINE: As soon as you step inside the Mob Museum's elevator, a cop on a video monitor greets you.


UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR #1: You have the right to remain silent. Anything you say can and will be used against you in a court of law.

JOFFE-BLOCK: Stepping out, you see a huge photo of 1920s-era gangsters. They're standing in a police lineup, wearing fedoras.

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN: I need suspects for my lineup, if you don't mind, right behind the glass.

JOFFE-BLOCK: Then museum staff guide you into a police lineup.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN: Number five, step forward.

JOFFE-BLOCK: Exhibits like this one blur the line between entertainment and education. But there's also plenty of serious history here, starting with the structure itself.

JONATHAN ULLMAN: We do consider the building to be - you know - really, our ultimate artifact.

JOFFE-BLOCK: Jonathan Ullman is the executive director. This 1930s-era building once served as a federal courthouse.

ULLMAN: There were numerous cases tried that involved alleged mobsters, mob figures. But most importantly - that it was a site of one of the Kefauver committee hearings.

JOFFE-BLOCK: Those were a series of hearings held by Senator Estes Kefauver to investigate the mob across the U.S., including Las Vegas. Now in the courtroom where those hearings took place, a video re-creates the interrogations, including a scene with ex-bootlegger and Las Vegas founding father Moe Dalitz.


UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR #2: (as Moe Dalitz) If you people wouldn't have drunk it, I wouldn't have bootlegged.


DENNIS BARRIE: When we started this project, it was really about the organized crime in Las Vegas.

JOFFE-BLOCK: That's Dennis Barrie, the museum's creative director. His wife, Kathleen, is the curator. As they did research, they realized...

DENNIS BARRIE: We could not tell the story of organized crime in Las Vegas without telling the story of organized crime nationally, and vice versa.

JOFFE-BLOCK: They are the couple behind the International Spy Museum in Washington D.C. Mobsters, like spies, posed a similar challenge: history that was meant to be kept secret.

DENNIS BARRIE: People, when they shoot somebody, they throw the gun away. The mob doesn't keep records, OK? They don't keep books - or not many.

KATHLEEN BARRIE: We did a little list of maybe 10 things that we really thought you needed to have in a mob museum. And one was a Tommy gun, and one was a brick from the St. Valentine's Day Massacre wall.

JOFFE-BLOCK: In fact, they got the entire brick wall from the 1929 massacre that Al Capone orchestrated in Chicago.

DENNIS BARRIE: This is the actual part of the wall where the seven men were executed.

JOFFE-BLOCK: You can see the actual bullet holes. A video about the massacre is projected onto the bricks.

DENNIS BARRIE: To find these things, you never know how you're going to find them, where you're going to find them. And for example, the wall, they called us. And it was a family in Las Vegas that inherited it from their uncle - who had it in his restaurant in Vancouver after the building was torn down.

KATHLEEN BARRIE: Many of the best things we have are because people got a little bit of wind of the fact that this project was going on. And they would call and say, I don't know if you think this is of interest, or this would be good...


JOFFE-BLOCK: We're interrupted by the sound of a spray of bullets coming from the other side of the room. Remember that Thompson machine gun - or Tommy gun - that they were searching for? It turns out, they got a whole collection. They even created a replica that museumgoers can try out.

DENNIS BARRIE: So that's what you hear in the background, the ability to fire a Thompson - which you should do.


JOFFE-BLOCK: I adjust the height and pull the trigger.


JOFFE-BLOCK: For NPR News, I'm Jude Joffe-Block in Las Vegas.

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