Sam Morris / Las Vegas Sun
Wednesday, March 9, 2011 | 3:02 p.m.
When you see the lifeless, bloodstained body of Albert Anastasia folded in the fetal position on the floor next to a barber chair, it’s difficult to claim The Mob Museum is glorifying mobsters.
Just ask Anastasia, aka “Lord High Executioner,” about that. Or not.
The chair in which Anastasia was groomed and, famously, clipped is the latest artifact added to The Mob Museum set to open in December in the old Federal Courthouse and Post Office at 300 Stewart Ave. in downtown Las Vegas.
For the announcement, Mayor Oscar Goodman; museum curators Dennis and Kathy Barrie; former FBI agent Ellen Knowlton, who heads the 300 Stewart Ave. nonprofit group affiliated with the project; noted New York mob artifact collector Artie Nash; Jim Germain, a longtime Las Vegas resort executive and Mob Museum board member; and Mob Museum Chief Administrative Officer Jonathan Ullman filed into Goodman’s attraction-unto-itself office at City Hall.
Those expecting to see a chair stained with the blood of the man who headed up the fatalistic mob outfit Murder Inc. would have been disappointed. The chair has been largely refurbished in the way the Pawn Stars would recondition such an artifact to sale at Gold & Silver Pawn, refurbished with new chrome and upholstery.
But the chair is the real deal, passed along by a St. Louis collector to legendary comedian Henny Youngman (himself an active memorabilia collector) and finally sold to Nash, who is now working with the museum to supply such artifacts to the $42 million project.
“What we’re trying to accomplish here is to have true artifacts that represent the true history of organized crime and the history of law enforcement’s efforts to fight organized crime,” Goodman said from the podium, moments before Nash pulled away the black blanket revealing the old chair. “One of the criticisms that I have heard over the years is that there would somehow be a glorification of the criminal element, and we’ve always assured people that this would be a very straightforward, warts-and-all presentation.
“I think today exemplifies exactly what we’re trying to accomplish.”
Warts and all, and even bullet wounds and all, is the approach here. The story behind the chair was that on Oct. 25, 1957, Anastasia was murdered in the Grasso Barber Shop at the Park Sheraton Hotel in New York City, which today is the Park Central Hotel. The barbershop itself is now a Starbucks, so the spot where Anastasia was gunned down is still serving double shots (ba-da-bum).
The crime has never been solved, making it one of the great mysteries of mob lore. Anastasia, boss of the Gambino crime family, was the overlord of Murder Inc., which is reported to have enacted 400 to 700 murders. Anastasia’s was a rare “hit” in that it took place during the day, in a public forum and was the result of a leadership “dispute” between the Genovese and Gambino crime families. (Clearly, organized crime divisions had no Human Resources department to serve as an arbiter in such disagreements.)
As Kathy Barrie noted, it is a challenge to verify that such pieces of memorabilia are authentic. This chair was easy to track, given that the collector in St. Louis kept accurate records, and Youngman held the chair for decades. But museum officials have bemoaned such tantalizing artifacts as a cane purportedly used by Lucky Luciano that was manufactured more than 10 years after his death.
“We really cannot say enough about the importance of having connoisseurs and experts connected with our museum,” Kathy Barrie said. “We can guarantee that the artifacts we have are authentic. Just as you might imagine, there are ersatz and not really up-to-snuff artifacts out on the market.”
Also brandished as part of the Museum collection was a .38-caliber, long-barrel Colt seized by law enforcement from one Frank "Frankie C" Cammarata. He was a confidante of Luciano (and Jimmy Hoffa) who was a member of the Purple Gang, a renowned bootlegging and hell-raising crew. Cammatra was eventually deported to Cuba, where he was thrown into prison by Fidel Castro for narcotics trafficking and died while locked up.
But not this chair, which is the very picture of the mob’s violent reign -- and a haircut gone bad.