Saturday, December 10, 2016

Vegas to Yuma

Saturday, Oct. 29th - Sunday, Dec. 11th

We left Montana Saturday, spent the night in St. George, Utah, and arrived in Las Vegas Sunday afternoon.  This fine ride was just down the row from us in the Thousand Trails campground.

Monday we went to the National Museum of Organized Crime and Law Enforcement, aka the Mob Museum.  The museum is in the original Clark County Courthouse built in 1914.  The museum director of content, Geoff Schumacher, is the author of Howard Hughes: Power, Paranoia and Palace Intrigue, the history of why the reclusive billionaire arrived in Vegas 50 years ago and why he suddenly left four years later.  In 1967 Hughes added "hotel owner" to his resume, buying the Desert Inn, so he wouldn't have to leave when his reservation ended.  His purchase of many hotels over time seemed to clean up the town's mob aura.  He brought fame, fortune and business know-how to the Strip.

Clever plea for donations.  They have a very interesting conspiracy theory about JFK's assassination being planned by the mob with Jack Ruby planned all the time to take out Lee Harvey Oswald, so he couldn't be questioned.  Las Vegas means "the meadows" for the plains that grew around the nearby springs and creeks, an attractive site for ranching and farming that once had orchards, vineyards, fields and cattle herds.  Hard to picture now.  In 1902 Clark County's namesake, Senator William Clark from Montana, bought an 1,800 acre ranch here and sold city lots on 80 acres, next to the railroad he was building from Salt Lake City to Los Angeles.  The city incorporated in 1911 and he became a very rich man.  He eventually sold his ranch and moved his family with two daughters to a 121 room mansion on New York City's Fifth Avenue.  His daughter, Huguette, died in 2011 and was the last heiress of the Gilded Age.  Their lives of wealth, scandal and mystery are another very interesting story.  There is a book about Huguette.  Look up her story on the internet.

Al Capone's Smith and Wesson revolver.  73 years after putting him in prison for tax evasion, IRS agents seized it in a 2004 raid of an illegal Kentucky gambling den.  

After losing his final appeal, Louis "Lepke" Buchalter was sent to Sing Sing Prison under heavy guard and executed on March 4, 1944.  He was the head of the Mafia's own private hit squad Murder, Inc. and the only major mob boss to receive the death penalty.

Old casino chips were taken out of circulation and dumped in Lake Mead, or put in the foundation of a new casino for luck, or cast in concrete so they could not be used again.

100 years of made men and their associates.  La Cosa Nostra initially only allowed men of Sicilian descent to join.  In a 1989 wiretap of an induction in Medford, Massachusetts members were made in ceremonies which included burning a saint's picture and a blood oath to omerta, a code of silence.  During Prohibition, a bloody bootlegging war wracked San Francisco.  After several murders Francesco Lanza rose to the top and organized San Francisco's La Cosa Nostra.  On the legitimate side, he operated the famous Fishermen's Wharf with his partner, Giuseppe Alioto.  His son became boss in the 1960s.  Frank Sinatra was close to Chicago mobster, Joseph Fischetti, and dined with him at the Copacabana in New York City.  He was also close to Joseph's brothers, Frank and Rocco, all cousins of Al Capone.  The Fischetti brothers accompanied Sinatra on a trip to Havana in 1947 for a gathering of America's syndicate bosses.  

It was Halloween the day we were there, thus the inmates in costume.  The Folies Bergere show had a nearly 50 year run at the Tropicana Hotel starting on Christmas Eve 1959.  It came to Vegas from Paris where it started in 1869.  Lou Walters, father of broadcast journalist Barbara Walters, was the resort's entertainment director at the time and brought the show here, including elaborate and visually dazzling numbers featuring singers, dancers and topless showgirls.  During the late 1970s the production's executive producer was Joe Agosto who also oversaw the "skim" at the Tropicana for the Mob on behalf of the Kansas City and Chicago crime syndicates.  The FBI busted the skim operation in 1979.  In 1976 (50 years after the infamous St. Valentine's Day Massacre) the Gaming Control Board uncovered a long-running skim operation, raking off more than $7 million annually.  The Justice Department targeted casino "consultant" Frank Rosenthal as the Chicago Mob's man at the Stardust.  Cash from the skim spread far and wide to Joe Aiuppa in Chicago, Nick Civella in Kansas City, Frank Balistrieri in Milwaukee and Milton "Maishe" Rockman in Cleveland.

The Pair-O-Dice was opened in the early 1930s by Frank and Angela Detra, associates of Chicago crime boss Al Capone, at Paradise, just a few miles outside Las Vegas and later became famous as the Las Vegas Strip.  When President Woodrow Wilson signed the 18th Amendment in 1919, with a stroke of his pen a centuries old custom became illegal, dividing Americans along ethnic, regional and religious lines.  Thousands of brewers and bartenders became unemployed or destitute or criminals.  Meant to outlaw drinking, it made drinkers into outlaws.  New York closed 15,000 legal saloons and some 32,000 speakeasies replaced them.  Poorly paid police often confiscated liquor and went into business selling it.  Upstanding citizens and mobsters became partners in crime, allied against federal agents.

In 1940 the FBI assigned Robert Maheu to infiltrate German spy rings.  He helped run a French double agent against the Nazis.  In 1960 the CIA turned to Maheu as a go between in its collaboration with the Mafia in a scheme to assassinate Fidel Castro.  He was to approach Chicago mobster Johnny Roselli as an advocate of international corporations and offer $150,000 to have Castro killed.  After Castro toppled the friendly government in Cuba in 1959 they were desperate to eliminate him and sought a partner that was equally worried about Cuba, the Mafia.  Roselli declined and referred him to Sam Giancana and Santo Trafficante, Jr., the Tampa, Florida boss and one of the most powerful mobsters in pre-revolution Cuba.  The scheme was abandoned after the failure of the Bay of Pigs invasion in April of 1961.  CIA documents released in 2007 provided additional details of the plot.  Congressional hearings have also exposed examples of CIA "subcontracting" to the Mob for a variety of covert operations.  In 1954 Maheu was summoned by the National Security Council to the office of Vice President Richard Nixon.  Nixon gave him the green light to employ a series of dirty tricks to wreck a pending agreement between Greek shipping magnate Aristotle Onassis and the King of Saudi Arabia.  Maheu's investigative agency was said to be the model for the TV show Mission Impossible.  Howard Hughes once asked him to arrange surveillance of Ava Gardner, whom he was pursuing, and to check on her meetings with Frank Sinatra.  He worked for Hughes for over a decade, four years as director of his Las Vegas operations, and was fired in 1970.  His autobiography is Next to Hughes.

After leaving the museum, we walked a few blocks over to downtown to the Fremont Street Experience.

There is now a zip-line down the length of the street that costs $5.00.  Since it was Halloween there were mobs of people in the street, no pun intended.  Fremont Street has been known as Glitter Gulch since the late 1940s thanks to its profusion of neon signs advertising round-the-clock gambling, entertainment and weddings.

A mime just parked on the sidewalk with his hair and jacket flying out behind him.

Who you gonna call?  Ghost Busters!

I'm not exactly sure who she, or he, is supposed to be, but certainly not the least clothed person we saw.  As they say, what happens in Vegas stays in Vegas.

These guys were probably from some movie I'm not up on, like Harry Potter or something.  Let me know if you recognize them.

This is the back of a very tricked-out handicap scooter.

These two ladies were my favorite, hands down, again no pun intended.  After looking around a bit, we headed back to camp with a stop at Checkers for a late supper.

Tuesday we went over to Sam's Town Casino a few blocks from our campground for the buffet and a movie.   Then we took the tour at the Neon Museum Boneyard.  The sign includes hidden references to the history of Las Vegas signage.  Each letter style is taken from a famous Vegas sign.  The"N" is from the Golden Nugget, "e" from Caesar's Palace, "o" from Binion's Horseshoe, and the final "n" is from the Desert Inn.  Each of these signs is in the Neon Museum Boneyard. 

Some of the museum's collection has been restored and placed along Las Vegas Boulevard, which was designated a National Scenic Byway in 2009, one of only three urban Scenic Byways in the country.  This is the museum which was originally La Concha Motel built in 1961.  Originally the Golden Slipper, the Silver Slipper Casino was once part of the larger Last Frontier Village, a western themed development, and is remembered for its iconic rotating shoe over the Strip, installed along the Scenic Byway in 2009.

Hacienda Horse and Rider was originally installed in 1967 at the Hacienda Hotel and Casino and was the first resort seen by tourists driving in from California, isolated on the far south end of the Strip.  "Vegas Vicky" is the original name for the iconic cowgirl, the first sign restored, and installed in 1997 on the Scenic Byway at the corner of Fremont street.  She acquired the pseudonym "Sassy Sally" from her proximity to the adjacent Sassy Sally's property.  

La Concha Motel sign where the museum is now housed.  The tour guide was very good with lots of stories about the history of the town and the characters who shaped it.

Binion's Horseshoe.

Sassy Sally's.

Yucca Motel.

Stardust, Riviera and Aladdin's lamp in the background.

The Stardust Resort and Casino operated from 1958 to 2006.  This sign installed in 1968 with its 188 foot high super pylon is remembered for its towering cloud of stars and panoramic view of the solar system hovering in the desert sky.  The Stardust was conceived and built by bootlegger, Tony Cornero, aka The Admiral or Tony the Hat.  He died in 1955 before it was completed.  When it opened it had the largest casino in Vegas and charged $6.00 a day for a room.

The Sahara was the sixth casino to open on the Strip, in 1952.  It operated over 58 years closing in 2011.  They have just one section of the huge horseshoe sign from Binion's here.  In 1962 the Binion's Horseshoe facade claimed to be the largest use of neon worldwide with more than 8 miles of tubing.

The Silver Slipper with a sliver of moon in the night sky. Oh, I made a palindrome.

The Boneyard sign at night.

Wednesday we drove out to Hoover Dam.  It was a five year project from 1930 to 1935.  It is 726 feet high and blocked the Colorado River at its entrance to the Black Canyon, flooding valleys and basins and turning dry cliffs into lake shore.  The dam weighs as much as 18 Empire State Buildings, 685 Eiffel Towers, 29,000 Statues of Liberty or 46,000 blue whales.  It was the highest dam in the world when it was built.  Lake Mead is the biggest reservoir in the country.  We are standing on the Mike O'Callihan-Pat Tillman Memorial Bridge, the longest concrete arch in North America.  It is the biggest composite (steel and concrete) bridge in the Western Hemisphere and the highest concrete arch bridge in the world.  It cost $240 million and is designed to withstand the high winds in Black Canyon.  U.S. Hwy. 93 enters and exits Nevada and Arizona here near Hoover Dam.  Before the river bridge opened, the original highway twisted down and up the cliffs of Black Canyon to cross over the Hoover Dam.  Now bypassing the original dam crossing eliminates traffic jams, allowing crossing in a minute instead of an hour.  Behind the dam you can see the "bathtub ring" of white calcium along the shore marking the lake's high-water line.

Overlooking Lake Mead National Recreational Area standing 400 feet above the water of Boulder Basin, the westernmost end of Lake Mead.  The lake's northern shore is roughly six miles away.  Boulder Basin is only 1/4 of Lake Mead.  The capacity of the entire lake is more than 46 billion cu. yds. - enough to store nearly two years of the Colorado River's flow.  Completely filled the lake is 500 feet deep with over 500 miles of shoreline.  The backed up waters formed a 110 mile long series of basins and coves.  The lake covers over 157,000 surface acres.  There are nine marinas and twelve launch ramps serving thousands of boats.  Rentals including houseboats are available.  Today Lake Mead irrigates over one million acres in the U.S. and Mexico, reaching kitchens in Tucson, lawns in L.A. and the farms of the Imperial and Mexicali valleys.  It is managed by the National Park Service along with Lake Mohave stretching 67 miles southward to Davis Dam at Laughlin.  In 1964 it was the first nationally designed recreation area in the country.  When the lake formed native plants, ruins and freshly abandoned towns disappeared.

 Thursday we went to the Longhorn Casino for steak and lobster for $12.99.  Friday we went to the Clark County History Museum, admission $1.00.  The nearby town of Goodsprings was settled in 1868.  From 1890 for about 15 years $600,000 in gold was mined here, continuing sporadically into the 1940s.  Today there are about 200 residents there and a historic saloon with bullet holes in the walls and a piece of the airplane that crashed in 1942 on Mount Potosi killing Clark Gable's wife, Carol Lombard.  Searchlight is 55 miles south of Vegas and a gold outcropping was discovered there in 1897.  By 1900 it had a population of 5,000 and was home to several Hollywood celebrities over the years.  Today it has a population of 576 and is the home of U.S. Senator Harry Reid and a popular stopping point between Vegas and Laughlin.  In 1900 the Las Vegas valley had only 30 residents.  Four years later two rival railroads chose the valley as a division point for shop facilities and a town because of the nearby springs and timber.  In 1905 lots for home sites were sold at auction for as much as $600.  The two-day sale netted the railroad $265,000.  In 1920 the population was 2,304 and by 1928, when President Coolidge signed the Boulder Canyon Project Act, as the rest of the nation was on the verge of a Great Depression, Vegas was gearing up for a decade of growth and prosperity with employment for thousands of workers.  Keeping the peace in the 1920s was done with a .45 caliber pistol and "brass" knuckles.  In 1931 the Nevada legislature legalized gambling and shortened the divorce residency, attracting celebrity divorce cases.  "Helldorado" was born in the 1930s to bring visitors to a place that was "still a frontier town".  The 1940s brought two major war related projects.  The huge Basic Magnesium plant in Henderson employed 11,000 workers.  They made lightweight metal for use in airplanes and bombs and hundreds of black men and women were recruited from Louisiana and Arkansas to work at BMI.  The Las Vegas Gunnery School was established in 1941 and trained 25,000 men over the course of the war.  After the war it was converted to Nellis Air Force Base.  Part of the Gunnery and Bombing Range became the Nevada Test Site.  With little warning to the citizens, the first blast took place about 60 miles northeast of Vegas on Jan. 27, 1951.  More tests followed rapidly and residents soon became accustomed to the predawn explosions.  In fact, the resort industry incorporated the mushroom cloud into their publicity efforts, by putting pictures of the exploding mushroom cloud on souvenirs, such as the "atomic" ash trays.  The Test Site employed several thousand.  In 1941 Thomas Hull built his El Rancho Vegas out on the highway to L.A. and it became the nucleus of the Las Vegas Strip.  In 1950 the population of Vegas was 24,624.  With better automobiles and roads, Americans began to travel as they never had before.  The "wide-open" atmosphere and dreams of quick riches lured the tourists.  By 1960 the population was 119,200 and concern over who was running the casinos grew.  In 1967, after Howard Hughes had come, they started to allow corporations to own top casinos and started making an effort to get rid of the mob influence.

This is a child's size porta-potty that was kept under the bed at night, so they wouldn't have to run to the outhouse in the dark.  Chamber pots came in small, medium and large with nicknames like thunder mug or thunder jug and goesunda (goes under).

The Peerless Automatic Mousetrap designed for the modern household.  It drowns the mouse.  It's so big it could have doubled as an end table or bedside stand.

By late 1905 there was a system of pipes made of wood that supplied water into the homes and businesses of early Las Vegas.  A filtering device was in place, but once in a while a small fish, lizard or insects would make it through and emerge in someone's faucet.  Early wood pipes still exist and are occasionally dug up during construction in the Fremont Street/downtown area.  These two were found in 1995 during the Fremont Street Experience construction.  In the early 20th century everything was shipped and stored in casks or barrels.  This 28 gallon oak barrel was re-purposed in the late 1890s as a water barrel.  Cowhide was stretched and sown over it.  As the hide dried it would shrink and tighten creating a water-tight container.  The barrel weighs 30 pounds and 20 gallons of water weighs 160 pounds, 190 pounds total.  Wire lug handles were added to make it easier to move.  These barrels were in common use as late as 1905.  I'm so glad I live now and not then.  As my Grandma would say, Uffda!

The 1910 Mills Slot Machine Company introduced the Liberty Bell Gum Fruit model slot machine.  It had an attached gum vendor.  All winnings were paid in gum.  The flavors of the dispensed gum (spearmint, lemon, orange and plum) were used as symbols.  The bell symbol represented the Liberty Bell machine.  Today's familiar "bar" was not then a jackpot symbol, rather it was the label printed on the gum fruit package.  Spearmint was replaced by a cherry cluster in a later model.  These early symbols plus watermelon were first used in 1937 and are the same as found on machines today.  I'm not sure if you can still find machines with these basic symbols or not.  Most have very fancy and ever-changing themes nowadays.  I'll have to ask my sister-in-law (the professional gambler) when we get to California.

This describes the slot machine above on the left.  They also had wooden prostitute chips or tokens that said right on them "Good for one screw".

They have several outdoor desert trails with old mining equipment, 1880s buildings and stuff.

Stuff like 20 mule team wagon, ore wagons and carts, slag buckets, mills, forges, drill bits, jack hammers and so on.

1917 Holt Caterpillar tractor.

They also have a city block of homes from the early 1900s to 1950s that have been moved here.  This house was the last pioneer home in the downtown area.  It was built in 1912 for $2,500 and moved to the museum in 1979.

Here is a 1946 Plymouth, a 1948 Spartanette camping trailer and a cabin from an early Vegas motor court.  After WWII J. Paul Getty bought Spartanette Aircraft Company and turned it into a luxury trailer manufacturing enterprise, producing the "Cadillac" of trailers through the 1940s and 1950s.

These homes had several different styles of some of the first washing machines.  The scrub board for washing clothes was invented in the late 1700s.  

An early hand-cranked washing machine was patented in 1851.  A hand-operated washer in 1880 had a wooden agitator with wooden pegs on it that was turned by moving a handle back and forth.  Children were often given the job of cranking the handle.  The first electric washer was in 1908.  Wash day was usually Monday and the process could take all day.  Ironing was reserved for Tuesday, since that task might take all day as well.  We just don't appreciate how good we have it now.

A Desert Inn warehouse supervisor and his wife built this table and one other out of dice.  Whenever possible the dice combos not only have a geometric pattern, but add up to lucky "7".  In 1945 only 5,000 homes in the country had a television set.  There were only ten hours of broadcast time available and only in a few areas of the country.  An average automobile cost $650 and a TV cost $700.  By 1952 there were 108 stations broadcasting shows such as "I Love Lucy" and the "Today Show" to 17 million TV sets across the country.  The first color TVs came out in 1954 and cost $1,295, but most programs were still only in black and white.  I was only one year old then and I'm pretty sure we did not yet have a TV at that time.

The bathroom in one of the houses.  I really kind of like these colors, very retro.

1930s railroad depot.  A little Vegas wedding trivia:  The most times anyone was married in Vegas was eight times.  Mickey Rooney was married here in 1942, 44, 48, 52, 58, 67, 69 and 78.  The shortest marriage here was Britney Spears and Jason Alexander, a mere 55 hours.  The oddest couple was Dennis Rodman and Carmen Electra in 1998 and lasted six months.  The most famous was Elvis Presley and Priscilla Beaulieu in 1967. The most famous local couple was Andre Agassi and Steffi Graf in 2001.  The no waiting chapels are open 24 hours a day.  In 2001 over 120,000 marriage licenses were issued.  Early dude ranches catered to celebrities coming to meet the six week residency requirement, so they could get a divorce.  I wonder how many divorces are granted every year, more or less than marriages?

A little wedding history trivia:  In earlier times the bride's father would take away his daughter's shoes and give them to her husband as a symbol of her being faithful and not running away.  Shoes were sometimes thrown at the bride and groom.  In some cultures after the wedding, as they departed, loud noises were made to scare away evil spirits, thus the practice of attaching shoes and tin cans and horn honking is a blend of old customs.  In the Roman empire a loaf of wheat bread was broken over the head of the bride by the groom and the crumbs that fell were eaten by the wedding guests for good luck.  During the Middle Ages sweet buns were brought to the wedding and piled together to make a tall stack which the bride and groom kissed across.  The higher the stack the more prosperous the couple would be.  In the 16th century a French baker created a layered cake with frosting that resembled a pile of sweet buns.  Tiered wedding cakes popularized in the last century were probably inspired by the "bun pile" cake.  White wedding dresses only came into style during the late 1800s.  Blue was more common early on and in many countries, the more colorful, the better.  The amount of material in the dress was a reflection of her social status.

Nature trails around the museum grounds.  The Mohave Desert region covers 54,000 square miles between the Great Basin Desert to the north and the Sonoran Desert to the south.

This bush with white feathery blossoms is called Desert Bloom.  Saturday we ate at my favorite fast food place Raising Cane's and Sunday, Nov. 6th we headed for Yuma.

Saturday, Nov. 12th we had an early supper at Eddie's and went to the 26th Annual Colorado Crossing Sunset Balloon Festival.

We got there early, so we could watch them all getting inflated.  Notice the guy right in the center of the lawn bracing himself as he holds onto the rope that is connected to the top of the balloon as it inflates.

As dusk comes, they have a DJ playing different songs and the balloons light up in sequence keeping time to the music.  It's pretty cool.  There are also bunch of vendors here and a fireworks display at dark 7:00 PM.  John said that was perfect.  He could stay up to watch the fireworks and still be home in bed by 8:00 PM.

Wednesday, Nov. 16th we did a little Christmas shopping, ate lunch at Chick-fil-a and went to see Hacksaw Ridge, very good.  They are remodeling the old downtown theater with cushy reclining seats in very steep galleries, so everyone has an awesome view.  Only $5.50 for seniors all daytime movies.  It's one of our favorite things to do here in Yuma.

A local artist painted their murals.  Can you name all the actors?

  They also have a restaurant at the theater with all kinds of drinks for all those cappuccino drinkers.  We have pretty much seen the sites around here in past years, so we just lay back and relax and catch up on our reading while we are here.

This is a view of our campground here at Yuma Lakes while we were out hiking.

This is the golf cart Christmas Parade at our campground the evening before we left.  One lady was throwing out candy canes to people watching and one couple was giving out beers to the drivers from their RV.

On that note we'll say "Adios and so long partners" to our fellow campers in Yuma.  Sunday, Dec. 11th we left here for two weeks in Palm Springs, before we go to Pismo Beach in California to spend Christmas with our kids and grandkids and Aunt Kathy.

Merry Christmas One and All,
Tarra and John