Geoff Schumacher The Mob Museum

It opened on February 12, 2012, the 83rd anniversary of the St. Valentine’s Day Massacre.
USA Today called it the “Best Museum in Nevada in 2019”.
USA Today readers called it the “Best Attraction in Las Vegas in 2020”.
Las Vegas weekly called it “One of the 20 Greatest Attractions in Las Vegas History.”
The New York Times called it one of the “Top 10 Places to Visit If You Only have 36 Hours in Las Vegas”.
Nevada magazine called it the ”Best Museum in 2012, 2013, 2014, 2015, 2016, 2017, 2018 and 2019.”
Since opening, millions of people have visited the museum from all 50 states in nearly 35 countries.
The museum we are talking about is The Mob Museum.
You can find artifacts belonging to Al Capone, Dion O’Bannion, George Moran, Lucky Luciano, Meyer Lansky, Ben “Bugsy” Siegel, Sam Giancana, Mickey Cohan, Moe Sedway, and John Gotti to name just a few, that are on display. We are talking guns, customized jewelry, personal belongings and hundreds of photographs.

Organized crime figures and their family members have visited the museum. They include Henry Hill, Frank Culotta, Vinnie “The Animal” Ferrara, Tony Montana, Michael Franzesc, Robert Sedway in Meyer Lansky II (the grandson of Meyer Lansky.).

We spoke with Geoff Schumacher, the Vice President of Exhibits And Programs about The Mob Museum.

Q – Geoff, the first time I heard about The Mob Museum was when I was watching the travel network (TV Station). They had a guy riding around in a limousine on the Vegas Strip.
A – That was me. (Laughs)

Q – It was you?! That segment must have helped drive interest in the museum didn’t it?
A – I would say so. We ended up being featured in a lot of different news media, television, radio, newspapers, magazines, websites and all of it helps. It helps build awareness for the museum.

Q – How long have you been affiliated with the Mob museum?
A – I have been with the museum for about 9 ½ years which means I come almost 2 years after the museum opened.

Q – Did the museum have anybody in the position then, that you’re now in?
A – No. I was the first person. I created a new department and we began to focusing on updating the exhibits, seeking artifacts, new artifacts, putting together public programs. Speakers. Panel Discussions. As well as developing content for our website, our social media. Before that we had original designer for the museum who included curators from Cleveland and designers from Washington DC and exhibit designers and fabricators from Seattle. They all came together and put the museum together in 2012. But, they were all contractors and they went back to their lives. It just took a little while for the museum to get to the point where they recognized they needed to constantly update and evolve the exhibits, to seek out new artifacts and all the different things you need to do to stay relevant stay fresh.

Q – How do you obtain the personal belongings of the Mobsters that are displayed in the Museum? Did you contact their families or did the families contact you? How did/does that work?
A – Well in a few cases we did in fact reach out directly not only to Mob families but law enforcement agencies because we are very focused on them as well. We did in fact do some original seeking out but for the most part they call us, or we learn about things that are available on auction sites or people want to make donations or sell something to us. That’s all great. The hard part for us, the challenging part is we need to authenticate these items, right? We need to make sure that they’re real and they live up to the claims of the people that are either selling or donating them.

Q – How do you do that?
A – Its research. It’s kind of like journalism in the sense that you are making calls, seeking documents, you are doing research into the history is of products. You’re researching the likelihood that something is from the correct era. Could in fact be linked to a particular individual? You’re getting things directly from families, can be very good because you can see the lineage all laid out there or even better is when there’s hard documentation of the chain of ownership of a particular item.

Q – You have a display of people who went after the Mob, people like J Edgar Hoover, Eliot Ness, Estes Kefauver, but, how about Robert Kennedy? Is he represented at all in the museum?
A – So, Robert Kennedy is in the museum. He’s on the first floor. He’s prominently displayed particularly for his role in the Rrackets Committee, the Cleveland Committee which was a Senate Committee that followed in the footsteps of Kefauver Committee and that targeted Jimmy Hoffa and the Teamsters Union and also brought to light the testimony of Joe Valachi, the longtime Mafioso came forward and kind of revealed all the secrets of the Mafia in 1963 on national television.

Q – I remember that.
A – So, Kennedy is featured prominently in that way. We’ll probably add another segment, another display in the museum at some point where we talk about Kennedy in his time as Attorney General, and the work he did in going after the Mob during the Kennedy Administration.

Q – Are you going to go after personal items that belonged to Robert Kennedy and documents as well?
A – Yeah. We definitely want to go after (that). Ideally the Holy Grail is original material like one of a kind items. That’s what our guests are really hoping to see when they come here. These are items that are not copies, replicas, photocopies. They’re the real deal. And so that’s what we go for first. But, in some cases your just trying to tell a story and so if you at least have access to images of those items then you can use those effectively as well, whether it’s a photograph or document. In the case of the Kennedys these items are very much sought after as you might imagine and they are often held in places like the JFK Library in Boston or other museums. So, that is something we will pursue. We haven’t done that as of yet.

Q – I’m not sure you can answer this question, but I don’t understand how guys who are doing something illegal would go out of their way to call attention to themselves, like a John Gotti with his $2000 custom-made suits and chauffeur driven Mercedes-Benz and call himself a plumbing salesman. Do you have any insight into why a guy would do that?
A – You’re not the first person to ask that question. I have attempted to answer that in the past. There’s a precedent even before John Gotti and that was Al Capone. In each case, I think why you look at Capone and Gotti in particular there is a sense that they have paid off all the right people and that they are somewhat invincible. It’s a power trip. They just love the idea that they were walking freely down the street talking to reporters, making a spectacle of themselves and getting away with it. It’s a mistake. It’s a terrible mistake from an organized crime standpoint. You raise your head above the water there’s going to be somebody who wants to knock you down. And so, all what Gotti was effectively doing was thumbing his nose at law enforcement which only increases their desire to take him down. But, the thing about Gotti he is, remember the first three trials he was involved in, in the 1980s, he won. In one case he paid off a juror who helped him win and in another case his lawyers sort of made a mockery of the whole process and he ended up getting off, but the fourth time is the charm. The fourth time he was prosecuted and he went to prison for life. There may not have even been a fourth trial if he hadn’t been so defiant and so public.

Q – When Jimmy Hoffa went before the Senate Committee, he was asked by Robert Kennedy “Who’s back were you going to break?” And Hoffa said “Figure of speech.” So when John Gotti is heard on tape saying “This is our thing”. It will always be our thing. Why didn’t his lawyers counter with ”That’s just John using a figure of speech?” There must have been more on tape.
A – Oh, for sure. They talked about murders on the tapes. They talked about other crimes they were involved in. One of Gotti’s best friends, his right-hand man was a guy named Anthony Ruggier’s and he loved to talk. He was just a blabbermouth. When they got him on tape he was talking about drug trafficking, heroin trafficking. That’s sort of a cardinal sin in some circles in the Mafia. You’re not supposed to be involved in drugs. Of course many of them were and that’s how they made a lot of money. But to get caught on tape talking about drug trafficking definitely was not going to end well.

Q – I watch the documentaries on all these gangsters and I have the sense that sometimes there being glamorized. Are they being glamorized?
A – Sometimes they are. I’ll say this first at my museum we really try very hard not to glamorize Mobsters. They’re criminals. Their killers. They hurt people. They hurt institutions. They hurt cities. And, in some cases they hurt nations. I mean they are not good people. But we do tell their story because it’s an important story to tell as part of the shadow history of the United States, shadow history of the world. These things happen. You tend not to learn about them in high school in civics, right?

Q – Right.
A – Even though political corruption is something as central as the legs of a stool of organized crime. It’s important for us to know about that. That’s also why we focus on law enforcement equally. We want to talk about this story of the Mob and then we want to tell the story of how law enforcement responded to the Mob. So, we try very hard not to glamorize. I will say there is obviously a segment of the culture that admires these individuals. Maybe they admire the way they dress. Maybe they admire the way they act, their attitudes. Maybe they even appreciate the crime they engage in, but, that is not us and it’s not something we encourage.

Q – Is it true that when Howard Hughes started buying up casinos in Las Vegas, the Mob moved out? There is no more Mob influence in Las Vegas?
A – Okay it was a gradual process. I wrote a book about Howard Hughes. He came to Las Vegas and bought six casinos. All of those casinos formally had a Mob influence in them. By him merely purchasing those casinos started nudging the Mob off the strip, the Las Vegas Strip. The second thing that happened was while he was here the state passed a new law that said owners of a casino did not all have to be licensed. In other words in the past if there were five owners of a casino, they all had to pass licensing muster. But, if you got a Wall Street Corporation with thousands of shareholders there’s really no realistic way that you could own a casino before. So, this change in law allowed that only key employees of the casino needed to be licensed. 10 or 15 people at this big casino needed to be licensed and go through a background check and all of that. So, that helped open the door to more mainstream investment in Las Vegas. And really the third piece of that is Hughes started investing in casinos at a time when people knew that Howard Hughes was a little eccentric. They didn’t quite know the full story until later about how unusual he was. They did know was he was a brilliant businessman and so if Las Vegas is good enough for Howard Hughes it might be good enough for us all as well. You started seeing more mainstream companies taking an interest in Las Vegas because of Hughes. Now, the Mob was not completely driven out of Las Vegas until I would say the mid-1980s. It took a while. But, I think it was Hughes who was kind of the catalyst.

Q – And then the Mob moved out to Atlantic City didn’t they?
A – Yeah. Some Mob groups were definitely active in Atlantic City in the late 70s, early 80s. But, what you saw in Atlantic City was that they more or less copied the gaming regulations apparatus that Nevada had created. It was even tougher actually in some cases than Nevada and so even in Atlantic City it was difficult for the Mob to gain a strong foothold. The world just got too big for the Mob when it came to gambling. When the Mirage hotel was built by Steve Wynn in 1989, he had spent $600 million to build it which is actually not a lot today, but in 1989 it was the most ever spent and the Mob for all of its clever schemes could never put together $600 million. That’s just way too much money. So, Wynn needed to get to Wall Street to get that money and all of the people who follow him in the 90s and the early 2000’s building billion-dollar resorts they got the financing the way traditional businesses do and the Mob could no longer compete.

Q – If you are someone who was touting themselves as a brilliant businessman and you were building these huge buildings in New York City in the 1980s, and the Mob was overcharging builders for cement and windows, would you as a businessman know of the Mob involvement or would you just pay the price?
A – Very carefully worded question.

Q – Because you know who I’m talking about.
A – Of course I do. The answer is pretty simple is yes. It was a very poorly kept secret that the Mob in New York controlled the concrete labor and companies they took a piece of almost every major building that was built in New York at the time. I think that the builders knew that. They just had to figure out how to deal with it. I’m sure they didn’t like it. I’m sure they didn’t want to be in any kind of partnership with the Mob but, if you wanted to build a building in New York at that time that’s what you had to do.

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