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Mob Museum to mark Kefauver Committee hearings

On Nov. 15, the Mob Museum and Zappos are going to make you an offer you can’t refuse: free admission.

“We believe the history and culture of our city is important to remember and preserve,” Zappos spokeswoman Jamie Naughton said. “Partnering with the Mob Museum to allow locals to experience a piece of our history and culture fit well with our overall philosophy. We are honored to be a part of it.”

The occasion is Kefauver Day, which commemorates the anniversary of the Kefauver Committee hearings that took place in the building in which the museum is housed. The building was built as a combination federal court and post office. When the building was converted to the museum, part of the renovation included restoring the historic courtroom to the way it looked in 1950. The builders were aided in the task when they discovered some of the original wall color and decorations under a more modern facade.

“The floor is new, but the wall color is right, the decorations are right,” said Jonathan Ullman, executive director and CEO of The Mob Museum, the National Museum of Organized Crime and Law Enforcement. “The light fixtures are meticulously copied replicas based on other courtrooms of the era.”

This is the second time the museum has hosted Kefauver Day.

The Kefauver Committee held a series of special investigative hearings looking into organized crime in interstate commerce. They were named for the committee’s chairman, U.S. Sen. Estes Kefauver of Tennessee.

The hearings were televised, which was a first, and set a precedent for televised congressional hearings. Television was just coming into its own at the time, and Ullman noted that about half the homes in the country had a TV.

‘It’s estimated that 20 million to 30 million people watched them,” Ullman said. “That’s more than the estimate of people who watched the World Series that year. People who didn’t have a TV watched it at neighbors’ houses or restaurants or other public places with a TV. Businesses literally shut down so people could watch them.”

The hearings took place at 14 locations across the country, but because Las Vegas was the only place in the country with legalized gambling, the hearings attracted a lot of attention locally.

“The hearings were really important from both a local and national perspective,” Ullman said. “It put a focus on gambling and changed the way the country looked at it for decades.”

Ullman said that at the time there were many places in the country that were a hotbed of illegal gambling and other places where authorities turned a blind eye to it. Because of the hearings and the unsavory light in which gambling was cast, several places that were considering legalizing gambling backed off the process, and other places cracked down on it.

“You can imagine how different things would have been for Las Vegas if gaming had become more socially acceptable and widespread in the 1950s,” Ullman said. “It’s a complex system, and there’s never just one factor that shapes things, but the town might never have become what it is today.”

Another mitigating factor in the rise of Las Vegas as a gaming destination was the fall of the casinos of Havana, Cuba, another easily accessible gaming destination. The one-two punch of Kefauver and Fidel Castro helped create the golden age of Las Vegas.

In addition to free admission for Nevadans and buy-one, get-one-free tickets for visitors from out of state, Kefauver Day is set to feature a visit by Diane Kefauver, one of Estes Kefauver’s daughters.

“She’ll be here with her husband, filmmaker Jon Rubin,”Ullman said. “At 10 a.m., they will be showing highlights of the documentary he created about her father.”

The hourlong documentary is called “Crimebuster: Senator Estes Kefauver, Politics, Television and Organized Crime.”

“It’s extremely important to us that that this will be a public resource that is accessible,” Ullman said. “If some people find the cost prohibitive, it’s important that there are opportunities like this. We really can’t thank Zappos enough. Without their help, it would be extremely costly to offer up a free day.”

Ullman is excited about bringing history and awareness of Las Vegas’ unique background to the public.

“Last year, people came up to me in the street and told me how excited they were about Kefauver Day,” Ullman said. “The idea of making ‘Kefauver’ a household word is pretty cool. Making history cool and relevant to people is what we’re all about.”

Admission to the Mob Museum, the National Museum of Organized Crime and Law Enforcement, 300 Stewart Ave., is free with a Nevada ID from 10 a.m. to 8 p.m. Nov. 15. Visit themobmuseum.org or call 702-229-2734.

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