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The Mob As Museum Piece

Wow, the Mob really is dead. For years we’ve heard that the decline of omertà, the disappearance of mom-and-pop retail, and the erosion of socially cohesive Italian-American neighborhoods were killing off the Mafia. It was the upside to the evisceration of community structures documented in books like Bowling Alone. My favorite illustration was the hilarious scene in the “Johnny Cakes” episode of The Sopranos in which Burt Gervasi and Pasquale “Patsy” Parisi try to shake down a Starbuck’s. More pitying than fearful, the barista explains: “I can’t authorize anything like that. It’d have to go through corporate in Seattle.... The numbers don’t add up, I’ll be gone and somebody else’ll be here.” As the thwarted thugs walk away, Patsy observes sadly, “It’s over for the little guy.”

The latest indicator of the Mob’s decline is celebrating its grand opening today in Las Vegas. It’s called The Mob Museum, and it’s as certain a sign that the Mob is over as the advent of Washington’s Newseum was a sign that the news industry was going the way of the dodo. Some of us remember a time when merely saying the word “Mob” out loud anyplace within the state of Nevada created an unacceptably high risk of severe bodily harm. No more. The museum features an exhibit on the Kefauver hearings (held in the very building where the museum is housed); a timeline tracing the rise of the various Mafia “families” around the world; and—be still my heart—blood-spattered bricks (well, bricks, anyway) from the Chicago garage at 2122 N. Clark Street (dismantled in 1967—an outrage to historic preservation second only to New York City’s demolition four years earlier of McKim, Mead, and White’s Pennsylvania Station), where Al Capone tied up a few loose ends on St. Valentine’s Day, 1929. The museum is the fulfillment of a longstanding dream of board member Oscar B. Goodman, a onetime Las Vegas mayor and mob lawyer. Sadly, the online store is not yet up and running, so the little woman will have to settle this year for candy or flowers.