The Mafia on Vacation: A Visual Travel History (Las Vegas, Part 1)


Over the weekend I began reviewing boxes of photos, all in an effort to get some visual grasp of my family’s less-than-stable past–an effort, even, to understand my own story.  In the process, I discovered a fascinating and unexpected photographic record of my parents’ travel history.

Almost immediately certain patterns began to emerge.  First, the same cast of characters repeats itself from trip to trip, and second, every person I’m able to identify by name has some mafia affiliation, making my partner Sara wonder whether my father conducted “business” on these vacations to Las Vegas, Miami, Mexico, and the Caribbean. 

Frankly, this question never occurred to me.  Yes, there’s the Hollywood stereotype of the mafia laundering money in the Bahamas, but  I have no reason to believe that happened on my parents’ trips or to what degree my dad did or didn’t work while on holiday.  I know he had calls forwarded to our condo on Miami Beach, but apart from that, I remained a clueless kid, sometimes included in these elaborate get-aways, sometimes not. 

Today I’ll share photos taken during my parents, vacation to Caesars Palace in Las Vegas, soon after the casino opened in 1966. 

3570 Las Vegas Boulevard, South

I find this a fascinating visual record of mafia bosses vacationing in Sin City during the sixties, but even if organized crime fails to interest you, it seems, at least, an intriguing look at what a moneyed Vegas looked like during that era. 

In this first photo the group is gathered for dinner in one of the main dining rooms:

My parents are 3rd and 4th from the left on the left side of the table. Bobby "I" is next to last on the same side. His wife Dee is seated at the far end. On the opposite side, Bobby's brother Joe and his wife Norma are seated 1st and 2nd on the near end of the table. I can identify none of the other faces.

(In case you’ve forgotten, Bobby, currently the underboss of the Pittsburgh crime family, is the gambling king pin Dick Thornburgh brags about bringing down in his autobiography and the one my dad was locked in a room with when 100 federal agents raided 22 Pittsburgh locations in November 1970.) 

Back in Las Vegas, however, the men of Bobby’s entourage reconvened around the same Caesars Palace table on another evening:

Here, Bobby is seated 4th from the left on the left side of the table, and my father is directly across from him.

Below, the entire group is set to see a dinner show.  Notice the narrow ties, the big hair, the general air of Jackie Kennedy chic:

Here Bobby "I" and his wife are opposite one another on the far end of the table. My father is the 6th person from the right on the same side. My mother is directly across from him but hidden in this shot. Joe "I" is 4th from the right , and his wife Norma is opposite him, 3rd from the near end.

The final photo is of the same group, taken from the opposite end of the table.  Pay attention to the extreme hair sported by the ladies on the right, especially Bobby’s wife in what I think of as bulging-brain bouffant:

Here Bobby and Dee are opposite one another in the foreground, and you can see my dad clearly, 5th from the left. My mom is again barely visible opposite him.

Soon I’ll do a post about my parents’ cruises to the Caribbean, including photos of my mother in a feather boa, and at least one other about trips that included us kids, even photos of my brother behind a bar at age five in a white tux and black bow tie.  Here is a preview:

My brother Tyce helping out aboard the Oceanic in 1979

In the meantime, what interests you most about the photos I shared today?

34 thoughts on “The Mafia on Vacation: A Visual Travel History (Las Vegas, Part 1)

    • Yes, yes, that is, indeed, my next task. My mother seems to forget. My brother wants me to reconnect to the two “I” brothers who are still alive and interview them. My mom stays in touch with the wife of one via email. Now I only need to persuade her to give me the addrress. My brother insists I need to get this from “the horse’s mouth” before they die. Now, if only they will talk.

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      • I understand. Actually, I think the mafia represented huge loss at least for the daughters of these men–and I’m sure for the wives, as well. One of the daughters developed a terrible eating disorder when we were kids–nearly died–I suppose in response to this kind of control suggested by the hair, clothes–the assemblage of self that represents.

        Thanks for this further comment. I understand exactly what you mean now. I think I’m so close to all of this, it’s hard to know what it looks like from the outside.

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  1. Some of these guys *look* like gangsters, but your dad looks like a college football quarterback. What the heck is he doing there? How did he get sucked into “the business” in the first place? Do you know?

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    • None of us seem to know that for sure. My brother is seriously suggesting I interview these guys to ask about that and lots of other things. Don’t know if they will talk to me or not–maybe only off the record. My brother was back in Pittsburgh 15 years or so ago and met with one of them since he had been one of my father’s oldest friends. My brother seems convinced they will talk to me. I don’t know. Kind of makes me nervous.

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  2. The fact these photos illustrate a bygone era I recall when it took place interests me. Also this was the era that, thankfully, paved the way for the women’s movement. I was half expecting to see a picture of your dad and his mob-friends in the company of the Rat Pack. If you have the opportunity to interview any of these guys I hope you do go for it. They might be willing to talk to you but I would not be surprised if their stories contradicted each other, especially if most, if not all, of them served time. T

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    • Yes, yes, the women’s movement is an undercurrent here. The brother who I think would be most inclined to talk to me is the only one who has not served time. However, Bobby is the one I’d most like to interview. We’ll have to see what happens. Interesting to hear that you too think I should attempt interviews. Thanks for the feedback.

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  3. I love everything related to Vegas in the 60s…I think it was a fascinating and storied part of Sin City’s history. How amazing to see your parents right smack dab in the midst of all that!

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  4. Those were the days, when kids could not only sit at the bar but tend bar as well. I remember them well.

    I half expected see a member of the Rat Pack sitting at one of those tables. 😉

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  5. I think what strikes me most is how “sinless” these pictures look, granted they’re family photos mainly. But I imagine there must have been a little debauchery that followed, at least for the men folk, occasionally. Also, what I found “spooky” was seeing some of the same cast of characters at the same table in different pictures. I can’t say why, but I do.

    The interview thing would be very interesting, and potentially very cathartic for you, but I would think it’s a very scary thought. It’s a hard thing for me to understand.

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    • Sara was struck by the same faces appearing over and over, as well. However, many of them reappear in a number of different trips. That’s what makes Sara think there was “business” being done. Hadn’t thought about the potential “debauchery” for the men. Yes, this was Vegas.

      For some reason, I am really anxious at the thought of interviews. Don’t know why, though. Thanks for reading, Rose! I appreciate your insight.

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  6. I was a “tween” in the 60s, the daughter of a sales supervisor for the West Bend Co. The pictures look like my parents sales conventions. Lot’s of alcohol, Brylcream and hairsprayed ladies. (Ladies who slept at night with a silk scarf wrapped around their heads to protect the “do”, and who hid their unhappiness behind false smiles throughout the day.)
    Kathy, I agree with Tyce–go for it, ask for an interview. You interviewed “Baby Doc”; you can interview a mob guy.
    xo

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    • Hell. I forgot about interviewing Baby Doc there for a minute. The only difference is that I interviewed the former Haitian dictator a mere day before leaving the country. I felt like I was safely on my way out of the country. No, seriously. You’re right, Jean. Thanks for reminding me, dear heart. I love you, sweetie! Thanks for reading!

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    • I was pretty excited when I found these photos for that exact reason. I too thought the hair and fashion were fascinating. Isn’t it amazing how controlled the women look–so well put together? Think of the girdles they must have been wearing!

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  7. Although I will buy and read your memoir when you publish it, I love that you are able to link back to previous posts featuring the people you mention.

    The think that amazes me most about these photos, is that all these Mafia characters not only sat at one table in a public venue, but had photos taken!

    Oh, and what better cover for some criminal activities than taking your family on vacation? Perks of the job. If that is indeed what happened.

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