The history of organized crime in America is an interesting one, full of colorful characters, dangerous criminals and those who have tried to bring them to justice. But for all that history, there was never one single place where those stories were told—until now, of course.
The Mob Museum opened its doors this year in downtown Las Vegas, housed in a historic courthouse building where mobsters once faced the judge. Gallagher & Associates handled exhibition design for the project, and were part of an impressive team (including Dr. Dennis Barrie of Westlake Reed Leskosky and Kathleen Coakley Barrie of Barrie Projects) that worked hard to tell the story of organized crime in a way that had never been done before.
The team’s first goal was to avoid the Hollywood perception of organized crime in America, which has been most people’s primary view of the subject matter.
“We were trying to rise above the Hollywood narrative to some degree, get visitors to understand who the key players were, different regions of the country—we were really trying to paint a much more truthful picture of what organized crime was, and to a certain degree strip away that romantic Hollywood view of the gangster and define these people for who they really were. The story is very deep, at times frightening, and it’s still ongoing,” says Gallagher & Associates principal Patrick Gallagher.
The story of how the Federal Government began to fight back against gangsters is also told in the museum. The team partnered with the Federal Bureau of Investigation for the project, so these exhibits dig deep and examine the history in a way it hasn’t been previously.
“We got into files that we would not have been able to get into. Real files from the FBI help make it a much more dynamic experience. We’ve interviewed mobsters, crime fighters—it’s real stories from real people and it’s an emotional and at times very frightening story,” Gallagher says.
Gallagher & Associates likes to layer content in its exhibits, so that as visitors find information they are deeply interested in they can spend more time with it, get on an interactive or multimedia display and dig a little deeper. In the Mob Museum, there are a number of full-immersive environments that put visitors in a period of time, in a sense of drama, or in a sense of the moment that takes them on a journey.
Visitors begin their experience at the museum by taking an elevator up to the third floor, where they learn about some of the earliest elements of organized crime in U.S. history. Designers decided to start the experience on the third floor for a number of reasons, but primarily because the courtroom area was located on the second floor.
“Because we had to deal with the courtroom, that story had to fall in a certain level of chronology of the overall story we were telling. If we can get them to the top, tell a little about the history of the mob, then they matriculate downstairs into the courtroom at the right time in the storyline. I’m also a firm believer that people will walk downstairs easier than they will upstairs,” Gallagher says.
The centerpiece exhibit of the museum is the courtroom, where the proceedings of the United States Senate Special Committee to Investigate Crime in Interstate Commerce occurred in Las Vegas in 1950. Led by U.S. Senator Estes Kefauver, the hearings sought to expose and control organized crime.
Gallagher says he is extremely proud of what his team achieved with this project.
“We try to give visitors more than what they could have anticipated in the sense of the story, the collection and the experience. I want to surprise them and get them on a different kind of mindset when they come out about how they understand organized crime in America,” Gallagher says.