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Mob Museum The Purple Gang members trying to avoid the camera in an exhibition at the new museum in Las Vegas


LAS VEGAS — Lefty, Lucky, the Ant, Bugsy, the Snake, the Chin, Scarface, the Brain. The monikers of mobsters are like the nicknames of odd superheroes. They are two syllables of rat-tat firing, evoking creepy animals, physical protrusions or uncanny powers.

And now, here in a city where such figures were once as comfortably in their element as Zeus and his family on Olympus, they are finally getting something close to the museum they deserve: the Mob Museum, a $42 million survey of the American gangster, unfolding in 17,000 square feet of exhibition space, on three floors of a 41,000-square-foot landmark building on Stewart Avenue

With artifacts, clever interactive displays, atmospheric exhibits and photographs and videos, we learn how Las Vegas developed out of the early-20th-century desert, and how workers on the nearby Hoover Dam gave the town its first population explosion. We see how the mob maneuvered into businesses of pleasure, not releasing its hold until late in the 20th century, when corporate casinos trumped their almost quaint predecessors.

We learn, too, of these Jewish and Italian immigrants who treated the “land of opportunity” as “the opportunity to grab what they could,” and by trafficking in blood and booze built up national empires, until they were brought down with wiretaps, informants and more blood.

Like many things in mob-related American culture (even those nicknames), the museum mixes attraction and repulsion, sentimentality and hard-edged realism, relish and disgust. Like a gangster movie, it seduces us with these figures on the one hand, and with the other reminds us of the demands of justice. Its alluring, colloquial title, Mob Museum, is countered with a stern subtitle on the facade of this 1933 neo-Classical former post office and courthouse: the National Museum of Organized Crime and Law Enforcement  more  Here