Las Vegas, Nevada
The night in Los Vegas is just as bright as daytime, brightly lit with neon and spotlights. Any vice that a body could want is available for a price, and many for free. Gambling is the main trade, with prostitution running a close second, giving this city a dangerous feel, electric and exciting to every visitor, first-timers and veterans alike. But behind all the glitz and glamour lays the underbelly of the city, one founded not just on vice, but on crime as well. The Vegas sands have soaked up lifetimes of blood over the years, even in the most unexpected places. While the hotels and casinos are thriving legitimate businesses now, it wasn’t always so. And at least one man who left his mark here refuses to leave.
He is often credited for creating Las Vegas, bringing Sin City up from the sand and dirt of the Nevada desert. He was called heartless, ruthless, a gentleman and a sociopath. And although, to his friends, he was known as “Ben” and to his enemies, “Mr. Siegel,” much of America knew him by another name, one that would send him into a rage and ensured that none who ever called him that name to his face lived to tell about it: Bugsy. Whether or not the gangland fairytale of how Bugsy Siegel created Las Vegas is true or not, his legacy lives on in garish pink, neon lit against the night sky. Though he died sixty years ago, he proves the adage to this day. What happens in Vegas stays in Vegas.
It is impossible to tell the story, any story, of the birth of Los Vegas without mentioning Ben “Bugsy” Siegel. Born in 1906, Siegel made an early jump into crime by extorting protection money from neighborhood street vendors during his early teen years. He segued into organized crime, garnering a reputation for being completely “bugs,” a term that meant “crazy” and was often a term of endearment, but which Siegel hated with a passion. It wasn’t long before he came into contact with Salvatore “Lucky” Luciano and Meyer Lansky. Together with Lansky, Bugsy blackmaled, murdered, raped, and cut a swath of terror in the name of organized crime. He did his worst, and did it without conscience, going so far as to form “Murder Inc,” a Jewish hit squad in which Bugsy was the top hit man.
In 1945, Siegel traveled to Nevada to the then-tiny town of Las Vegas. Nevada had recently legalized gambling, which Bugsy saw as a gangster’s paradise. He borrowed nearly six million dollars from the mob and set to work building what he promised would be the greatest money-making scheme in history, The Flamingo Hotel and Casino. When it opened in 1946, it was a disaster. Although there were many celebrities present at the festivities, none of the locals showed up, and few of those present gambled. Bugsy persevered, however, and in 1947, the hotel began to show a hint of profit.
However, even the thought of practically printing their own money couldn’t save Bugsy from himself. He lived at the hotel, overseeing every section of the operation. He was not, however, careful enough to hide the fact that he’d been skimming money from the construction fund. The mob was furious. Even Lansky, Bugsy’s best friend since boyhood, agreed that Bugsy had to be hit.
It was June 20th in 1947 when Bugsy was visiting his mistress in Beverly Hills that Frankie Carranzo, a hit man from Murder Inc., fired nine bullets into the house. Two bullets ripped through Bugsy’s face (his eye was later found fifteen feet from the body), four more tore through his body, and the other three missed completely. The damage was done, however. Benjamin “Bugsy” Siegel was dead. His funeral, though widely publicized, was attended only by four relatives and a rabbi.
Over the years, the hotel has passed from the hands of many, including Howard Hughes and the Hiltons. And while the hotel that Bugsy built does not even resemble it’s former self, there are some that say the dapper gangster never truly left his beloved hotel.
While some claim that a sequence-clad Elvis mysteriously appears in the Flamingo Hotel, most know there is only one restless soul in the hotel, and many believe he would throw any others out. That ghost is none other than Ben “Bugsy” Siegel. He is always described the same way, a handsome man with intense eyes, wearing a smoking jacket and slacks as he prowls about what he still feels is his hotel. He’s appeared to guests and employees alike, giving many a scare they won’t soon forget. His wide smile puts them at ease, but his habit of vanishing before their startled eyes sends chills up their spines, causing at least one custodian to quit her job.
In 1972, the Hilton empire acquired the hotel, who kept hold of it for more than twenty years. Progress could not be stopped, and as Las Vegas grew, so too did the Flamingo. In 1993, the last remnant of the original hotel, which many claim was Bugsy’s personal suite, was demolished to make way for the hotel rose garden. 1999 saw the hotel split from the Hilton family, as it was taken over by Caesars Entertainment, who still own the hotel today. And while the rooms are state-of-the-art (with such items as televisions in the bathroom mirrors), there are still hints of the violent past of the city. Siegel, it seems simply refuses to leave, spending his time wandering the hallways and startling young women with his good looks and bad-boy charm.
Because he appears year round, most folks just need to know where to look to see him. For those looking for a personal encounter, he’s most often sighted in the rose garden, near the plaque baring his name. He’s also been sighted repeatedly in the wedding chapel. Most unsettling, however, is his habit of hanging around in the presidential suite, which, though it was built years after his death, many say bears an uncanny resemblance to Bugsy’s own beloved room.
See you in two weeks!
– Scott A. Johnson