The following day, I discovered what the Fremont Street Experience is truly like. I was reminded of walking a boardwalk with shops that have an informal, laid back aura. Though Fremont has shops on either side and engulfed in a giant canopy, which is a 90-foot barrel vault style tent. The venue has become a major tourist attraction for downtown Las Vegas, and is also the location of the Neon Museum and the city’s annual New Year’s Eve party, complete with fireworks on the display screen.
Also downtown, is the underrated, Mob Museum where I learned all about the organized crime that plagued the country during the first half of the 20th century. Armed with primitive knowledge of the mob history bestowed upon me by the HBO show, Boardwalk Empire, I attempted to understand exactly how prohibition law was serialized during this time. What I didn’t know, was that the mob helped give rise to the gambling industry in Las Vegas.
The mob’s leaders did used to commit heinous crimes such as skimming money, racketeering and ordering hits. The museum has excellent, visually-driven, interactive exhibits; most notably the St. Valentine’s Day Massacre exhibit. The wall is reconstructed as it stood, brick-by-brick, in 1929. Another interesting exhibit is the Kefauver Committee trial room. One of 13 rooms that saw more than 600 witnesses testify against illegal mob activity. Did I mention the hearings were televised?
Anyway, the museum is dedicated to featuring the artifacts, stories, and history of organized crime in the United States, as well as the actions and initiatives by law enforcement to prevent such crimes. The Museum is housed in the former Las Vegas Post Office and Courthouse, which was built in 1933 and is listed on the National Register of Historic Places.
Bodies: The Exhibition is truly a once in a life time opportunity and not just because it is a traveling exhibit. I mean, when else would I visit an exhibit that featured preserved bodies, skin stripped and organs showing? It is surreal it is to see chemically preserved bodies with blood vessels, bones, muscles, cancerous organs, black lungs paraded all over the place. Most of the signs tell you to start exercising and eating healthy. I think the intent is to scare its observers.
I spent my final day in Las Vegas at the National Atomic Testing Museum, which is in partnership with the Smithsonian, so it’s definitely a worthwhile visit. The museum documents the history of nuclear testing at the Nevada Test Site (NTS) in the desert north of Las Vegas and covers the period from the first test at NTS on January 27, 1951, to the present. Among its exhibits covering American nuclear history is a “Ground Zero Theater” which simulates the experience of observing an atmospheric nuclear test.
Other exhibits include Geiger counters, radio badges and radiation testing devices, Native American artifacts from around the test area, pop culture memorabilia related to the atomic age, and equipment used in testing the devices. Other displays focus on important figures at the facility, and videos and interactive exhibits about radiation.
My advice for anyone who goes to Vegas is simple: Look beyond the casinos and observe the natural history that exists in the soil and through rock formations, as well as man-made achievements. Listen, the casinos are fun, make a point to see them. But don’t be that tourist who doesn’t leave the Strip the entire time you’re in Vegas, unless it’s your bachelor / bachelorette party.
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