Tuesday, April 8, 2008

What Happened in Vegas Should be Told All Over the World!

That old marketing slogan, "What happens in Vegas, stays in Vegas" goes right out the window once you move away from The Strip and hit some of the museums in town. The Clark County Museum for example (technically located in the suburb of Henderson), presents fun and important stories that should be shared with a larger audience.

The main museum building consists of a timeline exhibit relating the history of Clark County from prehistoric times up until today through the use of dioramas, reconstructed period rooms and immersive areas such as the inside of a mine. Although this is a fairly standard approach to exhibitry for a history museum, there are two elements that really set the Southern Nevada Timeline apart from the rest.

The first are the little touches of humor and irony sometimes thrown in by the Curator of Exhibits--a disarming honesty in the label copy such as the acknowledgment of the use of a particular exhibit technique to elicit a desired response from visitors, or the unexpected placement of an animal or object designed to surprise visitors. The second is the sheer number of antiques devoted to gaming. Seriously, where else will you find ivory-inlaid roulette wheels from the nineteenth century?

But the main building is really only the tip of the iceberg. The real treats lie out on the grounds on the Ghost Town Trail and the Nature Trail and particularly on Heritage Street.

Heritage Street looks like a suburban street off of the Universal Studios backlot tour, with six neat little houses (and one original motor inn cottage) lined up on either side of the street. Wally and the Beaver could have grown up on this street. If they had, it would have been in the P.J. Goumond Heritage House, a 1950s Tudor revival home where a mannequin lounges on the couch in the front room, tie loosened and martini in hand following a hard day's work.

Each of the historic houses on Heritage Street transplanted to the museum from someplace in southern Nevada has been refurbished according to their appropriate time period, bringing to life the 1920s, 30s, 40s and 50s. The attention to detail is exhaustive, as is the research on the time periods and the results are utterly transporting.

The Clark County Museum really is a timeless sleeper--I was disappointed by the attendance during my visit. Again, where else will you find a vintage Spartan trailer (made by the company owned by J. Paul Getty) in perfect condition, sitting next to a motor court cabin in this day and age?

But maybe the problem is with the museum's pricing structure. In a town known for glitz, glamor and high rollers, it's not all that surprising that a museum--no matter how amazing--that charges only $1.50 would be ignored.

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