Why Wrong History is Bad History


The Fremont East Entertainment District spent considerable money to install historical markers in the sidewalks of Fremont Street from Fifth to Eighth Street.  These markers form a historical time line of events in Downtown Las Vegas history.  It was hoped that these markers would spur interest in our history as people walk up and down Fremont Street.

We think it was a good idea.  With the coming PostModern Museum at Stewart and Third, the Visitors Center on Fremont Street and Union Park, we believe that there will be renewed interest not only in the history of Fremont Street but in the history of Las Vegas.

There's just one problem with the markers, some of the history is wrong. 

Now this being Las Vegas, where myth trumps most of our real history, some believe it isn't that big of a deal.  But to those of us who believe that the real history of not only Fremont Street but of Las Vegas is much more interesting and much more fascinating than the myths, we believe it is a big deal.

Eighteen bronze medallions were placed in the sidewalks in the Fremont East Entertainment District.  City officials spent $3,600 for each medallion so it is not likely that they will replace the ones with the faulty historical information.

"If people are getting their history from markers in the sidewalk ..." said Las Vegas City Manager Doug Selby.

Well Doug, people tend to think that if a city goes to the effort to chronicle its history either in plaques, sidewalk medallions or signage, that the history they are reading is accurate.  Otherwise, what's the point of spending the money?  What's the point of continuing to perpetrate the misinformation?  Doesn't anyone in the city government care about the real history of our town?

There are plenty of historians here in town they could have reached out to, thus ensuring that the history on the plaques would be interesting and accurate.  Instead, it sounds like those tasked with this mission, got the majority of the "interesting and pithy" historical facts from "intense internet research".  One of the reasons we started our Classic Las Vegas Project and Blog was because we were appalled at the amount of historical misinformation on the Web about Las Vegas.

Mayor Goodman, when first told, had this to say: "I'm going to see what we can do, and I'm going to find out who's responsible for this," he said, adding he would consider tearing up the markers.

The next day however, Goodman had retreated from that statement and issued this one instead:

"It's a fun thing," he said of the markers. "I'm hoping people on the Fremont East are half-lit, and could care less what the markers say."

The fallacy with this thinking is that only drunk people visit Fremont Street. I'm going to go out on limb and say I'm fairly certain sober people visit Fremont Street regularly.  

What about all those folks who will be living in Union Park?  Won't they be taking their out-of-town guests and families for walks down Fremont Street (it will be their closest historical neighborhood after all) and they are not all going to liquored up beyond recognition. 

What about those who tour the PostModern Mob Museum and then want to explore Fremont Street to see some of the historical sites they read about in the Museum?  How many people visit Museums when they are "half-lit"?

Cultural tourism is going to be important on Fremont Street because Fremont Street is one of the few remaining links to our past where people can visit, read and imagine what life was like here in the 20th Century.  By disregarding cultural tourism in his own backyard, Mayor Goodman discounts one of the main reasons for the renaissance that he believes so passionately is coming to Fremont Street. 

If the City of Las Vegas is successful with plans for Union Park, the PostModern, the Smith Center for the Performing Arts and other grand plans, then the demographic of those who visit Fremont Street will grow beyond the current demographic of tourists looking for a deal, locals who love the El Cortez and the homeless and addicted who still populate too much of the Street. 

If you are the main cheerleader for better days are coming to Fremont Street because of gentrification and all your efforts to help spur that renaissance then why do you discount and disregard the cultural tourism that will be a main factor of interest?   Isn't the whole idea of a cultural renaissance coming to Fremont Street is because Fremont Street can not survive without it? 

Regarding his earlier pledge to find out who is responsible for the errors, the mayor joked: "That's when I thought there was one (a medallion) about me. I really could care less."

I know that Mayor Goodman likes to shoot from the lip but the message he is sending not only to the people who live here but to those that visit, is that our history is not important and is not anything we should care about.

Our history is worth caring about and worth discovering because Las Vegas did not spring fully formed from a fever dream of Bugsy Siegel or Benny Binion. 

"Is it necessary to debunk a legend and the mystique that continues to draw 40 million people annually to this part of the desert?" asked Scott Adams, director of the Office of Business Development, in a written statement.

Yes, Scott it is because this isn't a John Ford movie, it's our history.  Do people visit Boston or New York City or San Francisco or Los Angeles or Chicago to soak up the wrong history?  No, the people who go on historical tours of cities do so because they are interested in the real history. 

Las Vegas is here because the men and women who lived here and refused to give up on the town they called home despite the many hard times they endured.  When their faith was finally rewarded during the War years and the Post War era, they continued to believe in their town and continued to help it grow.  This history is much more important than the myths that have sprung up over the years.

For City Officials and the Mayor to denigrate their efforts and their accomplishments because "half-lit" tourists could care less does us all a disservice.

At some point, Las Vegas needs to grow beyond the stereotype of catering to the drunken hordes who only come here because what happens here, stays here. 

If Las Vegas wants to be a place of culture, art and history, it is time we all grew up and realize that by denigrating our own history and the accomplishments of the men and women who made this metropolis possible, we continue to perpetrate the myth that nothing of historical significance happened here.



Posted on Sunday, July 22, 2007 at 04:42PM by Registered CommenterLasVegasLynn in | Comments2 Comments

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Reader Comments (2)

Lynn, Can you please let me know what the errors are. I will definitely get into it and see if anything can be done. I will try to see you on Wednesday at the museum so maybe you could list the errors and where they are for me and give it to me then. Thanks much. MJ
Lynn, I agree with you and have had difficulties here in Los Angeles with people who believe the myth is more important than the reality of our city. You are not alone and not the first to fight this battle. Still, it drives me crazy that some would rather live with the lie and promote falsehoods on a mass scale than simply tell the truth.
July 26, 2007 | Unregistered CommenterLynxwiler
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