He signs autographs. He takes photos with fans. Mark Hall-Patton might just be the world’s only museum administrator with celebrity status.
Now his appearances on "Pawn Stars," the No. 1 show on cable television, are being credited with driving up interest in the Clark County Museum, about 20 miles from the Strip.
The modest museum has seen its attendance grow by 73 percent, from 20,675 visitors last year to 35,827 visitors this year. And if you exclude school field trips, visitation is up more than 84 percent.
While some come to see what the museum has to offer, visitors are mostly flocking there to catch a glimpse of the man with the gray-striped beard and Amish-style Atwood hat in native habitat.
Hall-Patton is famous enough that there are people pretending to be him on Facebook with fake pages in his name, and someone recently started an Internet rumor that he was dead.
"You don’t realize how much you treasure anonymity as a normal course of life until you don’t have it," Hall-Patton said. "… It’s a very strange thing. You never think it’s going to happen. If you ever thought you were going to (become famous) it would never happen. It’s just a fluke. You accept it, and it’s wonderful. It’s great for the museum."
Today, the Clark County Commission will recognize Hall-Patton and "Pawn Stars" star Richard Harrison for their efforts in boosting Las Vegas tourism and museum attendance.
In the comforts of his office Monday, Hall-Patton chatted about his newfound stardom and its impact on the museum tucked away in Henderson, near the eastern end of Boulder Highway.
All facets of the historic and quirky collide in this room. Hall-Patton’s own collection of badges worn by museum and library guards hangs on the wall. A small statue of the Geico Gecko rests in the middle of his desk. An old Army helmet sits on a table nearby. Hundreds of books, documents and binders are scattered around.
He played museum when he was 8 years old, taking all of "the old stuff" out of the house, building displays and forcing his younger brother and sister to take tours. He’s been in the real museum business for 35 years.
The Harrison family, which runs the Gold & Silver Pawn Shop in downtown Las Vegas, calls on his expertise to verify the authenticity of pieces that come through the shop.
He tries to let people down as nicely as possible when they don’t have the real deal. "There’s a long-standing joke that I crush souls," he said, laughing. "That’s my job."
Whenever Hall-Patton appears on the show, Leftfield Pictures, which produces "Pawn Stars" for The History Channel, makes a donation to the museum.
The cast signed on for another 80 episodes last week. The show now airs in 151 countries and 30 languages.
That translates into millions of dollars in free global advertising for the county and its museum.
"It’s been great for Clark County," said Harrison, better known to fans as The Old Man. "We have become the No. 1 tourist destination other than the casinos in the county. I get 4,000 people a day through my store."
And County Commissioner Mary Beth Scow, whose district includes the museum, recognizes that.
"You couldn’t pay to get that much exposure," Scow said. "It’s fabulous to have (Hall-Patton) do that. … When we can look at the past, appreciate the past, it helps build the future. Having this exposure is not only giving them the fiscal means to do that, I think it’s helping people look at it a little more closely and think about the past."
Hall-Patton has been museum administrator since 2007, but not even his rock star stature could save his division from recent budget cuts as the county grappled with the economic downturn. His budget was slashed and his staff was gutted from nine full-time employees to four. Events the museum used to hold don’t happen anymore or are sponsored by others.
On top the money the museum directly receives from "Pawn Stars," the Harrisons donate regularly to the museum’s guild and other charities. The pawn shop’s latest gift is $1,000 and the use of a chair that once belonged to Pat McCarran, the late U.S. senator from Nevada.
And who better than Hall-Patton to vouch for the chair’s authenticity?
He is convinced it’s real because its former owner in Washington, D.C., purchased it from the estate of one Eva Adams. She was a local librarian who also served as McCarran’s office manager and went on to become the first female director of the U.S. Mint.
"She was the only one I could have seen that could have actually gotten his chair. She was the only one who had that kind of clout and that kind of role," Hall-Patton said. "I needed a drool cloth when I saw it."
Contact reporter Kristi Jourdan at kjourdan@review journal.com or 702-455-4519.