Stories behind the stories break apart the myths

Southern Nevada is seen differently by everyone, and residents, tourists and others form their views of this place in part through urban legends, such as the ghost who haunts the Las Vegas Academy theater, what is inside Hoover Dam and others that have circulated for years.

Before Las Vegas Academy was LVA, it was Las Vegas High School and already home to a ghost, Mr. Petri, who supposedly still haunts the theater. Teacher John Morris, who has been on the site of both LVHS and LVA since 1989, has heard many theories about the haunting.

“I started my teaching career at Las Vegas High School, and for years and years they talked about a ghost named Mr. Petri,” he said. “There are stories like how he stumbled into the foundation of the orchestra pit, and I had a student who said she saw a man in a white tux in a particular seat in the theater, and she saw him there all the time.

“People would walk through cold pools where they felt despair and sadness in the theater, and anecdotal things like that.”

Morris, who does not believe in the supernatural, attributes the observances to the energy inside the theater.

“To me, it seems that when a theater gets to be a certain age, there’s this lore that ghosts are there,” he said. “My own theory is that theater focuses on a concentrated energy, where all this ensemble energy can float.

“When Las Vegas High School became Las Vegas Academy and became full of artists and musicians, they seemed to be more susceptible to this idea of a haunted theater. Every once in a while, this musical energy can come down from the stage and we as human beings perceive things based on this energy.”

Despite his skepticism toward the supernatural, Morris recalls one strange encounter when Las Vegas High put on a production called “Spoon River,” which is a collection of epitaphs. The stage was complete with a cemetery and a fog machine. He recalls that the stage was “very conjuring” to some people, including the director.

“During the production, it was particularly stormy and she was freaking out,” he said of the director. “She told me that there was a small naked Mexican boy standing next to her and tugging at her, saying he needs clothes. I’m thinking, ‘Come on, seriously?’ ”

After he convinced the director that it was all in her imagination, the rest of the night went smoothly, he said. Morris and his daughter, who was 3 at the time, were the last ones in the theater.

“She was out on one of the mounds of grass, laughing and talking when I told her it was time to leave,” he said. “She said, ‘No, I’m having fun and playing with my friend,’ and I didn’t think anything of it. She never had any imaginary friends, so I said, ‘It’s fine; you can finish playing.’ And then she told me, ‘It’s that little boy over there; he doesn’t have any clothes on.’ And after that, we left. She has an active imagination, but she certainly did not make that up out of her head.”

Another popular urban legend concerns Hoover Dam. The dam was built without the assistance of modern technology and machinery in the 1930s, so it seems only natural that people would be suspicious regarding the dangers there. But Clark County Museum Administrator Mark Hall-Patton said the legend about workers being buried in the concrete after falling into the foundations is a tour guide’s worst nightmare.

“Tour guides get asked about this all the time, because what people don’t realize is that it’s real hard to bury someone when you’re only laying 4 inches of concrete at a time,” he said.

Although it’s unlikely someone would be buried alive in the process of building the dam, former State Archivist Guy Rocha understands why people would embrace this idea.

“People are fascinated by strange or macabre stories,” he said. “People are ready to believe in conspiracies.”

Another myth circulating in the valley is that Benjamin “Bugsy” Siegel started the Strip by creating the Flamingo.

“People believe that Las Vegas exists because of Bugsy Siegel the thug, but he was just an insane person who liked to kill people,” Hall-Patton said. “He stole the idea of the Flamingo and the whole project from a fellow named Billy Wilkerson.” Wilkerson, he said, was having financial problems when he came up with the idea for the casino in the 1940s. Bugsy and his mob found out about it and wanted to make it his own.

“For many years no one ever mentioned Wilkerson, and so his son wrote a book about his dad, basically saying, ‘My father did this and he did not get credit, that essentially this modern resort was my father’s idea, not Bugsy’s,’ ” Rocha said.

Hall-Patton finds the idea that Siegel is credited with the birth of the Strip to be humorous.

“He didn’t come up with the first casino on the Strip,” Hall-Patton said. “People believe that Bugsy Siegel showed up in the middle of the desert and said, ‘Let there be a Flamingo,’ and everything grew up out of the sand. That didn’t happen here.”

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