Five common myths about Sin City |

Five common myths about Sin City

Richard Moreno
Special to the Nevada Appeal
Richard Moreno/Nevada appeal Contrary to legend, the mob didn't establish Las Vegas. It was founded by Mormon missionaries in 1855. The Old Mormon Fort, still standing, is the last remnant of the original settlement.

When it comes to myths, few places have been the subject of as many whoppers as the city of Las Vegas, which celebrated its centennial this year.

While some of the legends are self-created – many times by imaginative publicists – others have gained a life of their own by playing off the city’s over-the-top reputation for hyperbole.

The following are a handful of some of the more common myths about Vegas:

• Las Vegas was founded by the mob – If you’ve watched any gangster movie or TV crime show about Vegas, you might get the impression that this is true. The reality, however, is that Vegas was founded by Mormons.

That’s right – members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints established what is often called Sin City. In 1855, Mormon leader Brigham Young sent 30 men to establish a small fort and settlement in the Las Vegas Valley. Due to its isolated location and hot, dry climate, the colony struggled for two years before finally abandoning it.

A few years later, the fort became a ranch and trading post, which eventually grew into Las Vegas. The fort, now a state park, is just north of downtown on the corner of Las Vegas Boulevard and East Washington Avenue near Cashman Field.

• Bugsy Siegel created the Strip – Anyone who has watched the 1992-film “Bugsy,” starring Warren Beatty, saw Vegas portrayed as a backwater town that owed its existence to gangster Benjamin “Bugsy” Siegel. In the movie, Siegel, in Vegas to check on mob interests, pulls off the highway, walks into a desolate patch of sagebrush and sand, and announces that he will build a hotel there.

The truth is that the first resort built on the Strip was El Rancho Vegas, which opened in 1941, followed by the Last Frontier a year later. Siegel’s Flamingo Hotel did not open until New Year’s Eve 1946. Siegel wasn’t even the father of the Flamingo – Los Angeles publisher and restaurateur Billy Wilkerson was the original owner. Wilkerson, however, ran out of money and eventually partnered with Siegel and his mob pals to complete the hotel.

Siegel also is not responsible for naming the Las Vegas Strip. That honor goes to Guy McAfee, a Vegas casino owner who had been a vice-squad captain with the Los Angeles police. In the 1940s, McAfee named Las Vegas Boulevard “the Strip” because it reminded him of Los Angeles’ famed Sunset Strip.

• Elvis was always a big star in Vegas – Not true. In fact, Elvis Presley was a flop in his first Vegas appearance, at the New Frontier showroom in April 1956. His fans, largely teen girls, were too young to get into the casino to see the show, and the gambling crowd thought he was too loud. When Elvis returned 13 years later, he began a long string of sold-out shows at the International (now the Las Vegas Hilton).

• Big-name hotel entertainment was invented in Vegas – While Vegas resorts no doubt perfected the casino showroom and lounge, the first big-name entertainer to play a Nevada hotel was bandleader Ted Lewis, who performed with his orchestra at the Commercial Hotel in Elko on April 26, 1941.

The first big-name entertainer to appear in Las Vegas is believed to have been singer Sophie Tucker, who performed at the Last Frontier in January 1944. The first star-studded entertainment event in Vegas history was the grand opening of the Flamingo in 1946, which featured George Jessel, Jimmy Durante, Baby Rose Marie, Eddie Jackson and Xavier Cugat’s orchestra. Their appearance sparked competition between the city’s resorts, which continues to this day.

• Vegas is the hottest spot in Nevada – It may seem that way sometimes, but the place with the hottest recorded temperature in the state is Laughlin, which reached a scorching 125 degrees on June 29, 1994. The hottest recorded temperature in Vegas was a mere 117 degrees, recorded on July 24, 1942.

• Richard Moreno write “Backyard Travels in Northern Nevada” and “The Roadside History of Nevada.”