Thursday, September 24, 2015

HGB Podcast, Ep. 71 - The Flamingo & Bally's Casinos

Moment in Oddity - The Case of Dr. Lemberger

The mysterious case of Dr. Alfred Lemberger took place in 1901 and was reported in the St. Louis Republic. Apparently, the doctor had gone to the home of a sick child and diagnosed him with diptheria. He told the family what to do to help the child get better, but the family refused the advise and the child died. They blamed the doctor and it is said that they wished him ill. Some might call this a curse. The doctor was visited in his office later by a woman who prophesied the following, "Within nine days that fine mare will die, the colt you value will die, your last hunting dog will disappear, and then you will die." Dr. Lemberger later visited a club where he liked to play cards and he announced to his friends that he would be dead in a couple of weeks and laughed. He told them about the woman and the prophesy, but he never mentioned her identity. His friends joked along with him. Imagine the doctor's shock and their's when the mare did indeed die. A couple days later, his good hunting dog disappeared and her two puppies died. The doctor began traveling with friends for protection. He feared someone would try to kill him. After nothing happened, the doctor began to scoff about the prophecy, but he really shouldn't have done that for the ninth day had not passed. And it was in the evening of that ninth day that the doctor was playing cards and made his bid when he suddenly fell forward across the table...dead. The victim of a heart attack at the age of thirty-four. Had the good doctor been cursed? Who was the strange woman? We'll never know, but the case of Dr. Lemberger certainly is odd.

This Day in History - John Jay nominated as Chief Justice

On this day, September 24th, in 1789, President George Washington nominates John Jay as the first Chief Justice to the Supreme Court of the United States. The Chief Justice of the Supreme Court is the highest judiciary in all the land. Jay was already a very accomplished man having been a Founding Father and Signer of the Treaty of Paris. President Washington had actually wanted him as his Secretary of State, but Jay declined, so he was offered Chief Justice. Jay wrote six of the Federalist Papers making him the perfect candidate for the Supreme Court as the Federalist Papers helped explain the different parts of the Constitution in the effort to get states to ratify the founding document. He was unianimously confirmed on September 26th for the position. He served for six years and in that time, he set up most of the rules and procedures for the Supreme Court. He resigned in 1795, so that he could become the second Governor of New York. President John Adams nominated him to Chief Justice again in 1800, but Jay declined and retired quietly to his farm because he felt the court lacked energy and dignity.

The Flamingo and Bally's Casinos

Las Vegas has always been considered "Sin City" because of the permissiveness of what most people consider to be sin like gambling, sex, drinking, prostitution and much more. Las Vegas was a warm retreat for gangsters at one time and some of those gangsters helped Vegas to become the city it is today. People driving towards Las Vegas witness the glow on the horizon from all the neon lights that sparks the imagination. What child hasn't sat stunned in the car watching all the blinking lights? This place is the capital of entertainment and a good time. Las Vegas plays host to more than just the living though. A city caught up in this much emotion is the perfect setting for ghostly activity. Today we explore just two of the places that are reportedly haunted. The Flamingo and Bally's have interesting histories that have led them to be rumored to be haunted. Get out your tokens and loosen up that arm for some one on one with a one armed bandit as we venture into the casinos of Vegas.

Las Vegas means "The Meadows" in Spanish. The Las Vegas Valley was oasis-like and contained springs that were only known to Native Americans until a scout named Rafael Rivera came upon the area while searching for water. Around fourteen years after Rivera's discovery, John C. Fremont led an expedition out to the west and his group camped at Las Vegas Springs in 1844. This was one of four expeditions he led. Fremont was an interesting character in history. He was a man set on his own desires. He was court martialed for mutiny and insubordination and later during the Civil War, he was relieved of his position by President Lincoln for insubordination. But he was successful enough that he was continuously given more responsibility. And he meant enough to Las Vegas that they named a street for him, Fremont Street. That street is the second most famous street in Nevada. The first, of course, is the Las Vegas Strip.

The Las Vegas Strip is world famous because it is the section of Las Vegas Boulevard that is home to a concentration of casinos. Two of those casinos are The Flamingo and Ballys. The Flamingo is the oldest operating casino on the strip and thus it dates back to the time when the Mob ran Las Vegas and indeed, the Flamingo was built by Bugsy Seigel. The casino cost him $6 million to build and opened in 1946 under the name The Pink Flamingo Hotel and Casino. Originally, the property was owned by Charles "Pops" Squires. He was one of Vegas' first settlers. Margaret Folsom bought the property from him in 1944 and then sold it to Billy Wilkerson. He was planning on building a resort that would be the finest in town, but the war caused supplies and building materials to soar and Wilkerson soon ran into financial issues. Bugsy and his gang had come to Vegas for the gambling and when they heard Wilkerson was having problems with finances, they posed as businessmen and bought a two-thirds share of the project. *Fun fact: Pops paid $288.75 for the property, while Wilkerson paid $84,000.*

The Flamingo was built in the Art Deco and Streamline Moderne Styles. George Vernon Russell was the architect. Some of Wilkerson's design ideas would become staples at casinos. The idea for no clocks and no windows in the casinos was his as well as the fact that even non gamblers have to walk through the casino to register and get around the hotel. When the finances dwindled and Bugsy and his partners were brought on, another architect was hired named Richard Stadelman. Del Webb became the contractor. The hotel opened with 105 rooms, tennis courts, a nine-hole golf course and a trap shooting range. There was a habitat built for flamingos that was a garden courtyard. The Flamingo did not receive its name from Bugsy. Hollywood went with the legend in the movie "Bugsy" that claims Bugsy names it for his girlfriend whom he nicknamed Flamingo because of her long skinny legs. Wilkerson gave the casino its name when he first started designing the building.

Bugsy may have been good at running criminal enterprises, but he had real issues running a legitimate hotel and casino. During building, which was still ongoing even after the casino officially opened, cost overruns reached $4 million. The Grand Opening of The Flamingo was a complete flop and the casino lost $300,000 in its first two weeks because without completed rooms for people to stay in, they took their winnings elsewhere. Business was so bad that Bugsy closed The Flamingo. He finished construction and reopened in March 1947 with a much better reception. Despite The Flamingo running a profit, investors were not happy. They wanted bigger returns and since most of these investors were other mobsters like Lucky Luciano, Bugsy was in hot water. A meeting was called in Havana and Bugsy completely lost his temper and stormed out. Not a good idea with the Mob. As one would expect, a hit was ordered on Bugsy and he was killed while sitting on a couch in the home of his girlfriend on June 20, 1947. At the same time, several mobsters walked into The Flamingo and took over operations peacefully. The killing of Bugsy would make national news and suddenly, everybody wanted to come to exciting Las Vegas.

The Flamingo changed ownership and names many times along the way, including becoming the Flamingo Hilton under the Hilton Corporation for some time. Harrah's Entertainment is the current owner. The hotel was expanded to 3,626 rooms and the casino now covers 77,000 square feet. Many singing acts and other performers have presented entertainment at the Flamingo. As of 2015, Olivia Newton John and Donny and Marie Osmond alternate performing regularly at the casino. In 2012, the Port Adelaide Football Club came to the Flamingo to celebrate. Player John McCarthy decided that he wanted to attempt to jump from the roof to the top of a palm tree. Apparently, he must have had a few too many drinks because it was a horrible idea. He made the jump and rather than landing on the tree, he fell 30 feet to his death.

The Three Coins Motel was opened on the current site of Bally's Casino in 1963. That business was short lived and the Bonanza Hotel and Casino was built on the property in 1967. In 1973, the MGM Grand Hotel and Casino was opened in place of the Bonanza. It had 2,084 rooms, making it the biggest hotel in the world at the time and it cost $106 million to build. Kirk Kerkorian was the owner and he loved the movies and he owned MGM, so that is where the name came from. The decor reflected Hollywood and it had two large theaters. It became the standard for Las Vegas.  The Grand Opening was attended by Cary Grant and Gregory Peck. Dean Martin opened the showroom. When going to the MGM, everyone dressed to the nines. A fountain with a giant statue of Zeus was installed. People stepped down into the casino, which was relatively quiet, and they could take elevators down into the shopping area that had the most high end shops of anywhere. A 300 seat movie theater was down there as well with blue leather plush loveseats and couches. There were tables at each seat with red call buttons.

Everything was wonderful until November 21, 1980. A fire started in one of the restaurants early in the morning and made its way up into the hotel. Tragically, 85 people were killed, mostly from smoke inhalation. The number could have been higher as there were 5,000 people in the hotel at the time. One thousand people were rescued from the roof alone. There were no fire sprinklers in the casino. And if it hadn't been for the opening in the stairwells and elevator shafts and faulty smoke dampers in the ventilation system, the smoke might not have reached up into the hotel's tower, which is where most of the deaths occurred. New fire standards were created after what was the worst disaster in Nevada history and the third worst hotel fire in modern U.S. history. The MGM Grand was rebuilt in eight months.

In 1985, the hotel was sold to the Bally Entertainment Corporation for $594 million and renamed to Bally's. The Hilton Hotels Corporation bought Bally's in 1995. Hilton eventually formed their casino holdings under Caesar's Entertainment, Inc and Harrah's Entertainment bought Bally's in 2005.So the Flamingo and Bally's are under the same ownership. Recent news was made at Bally's in 2013 when a gunman opened fire in an after hours club there, wounding two people and killing a third because he didn't want to pay the cover charge.

Hauntings and casinos seem as though they would go hand in hand with all the connections to the Mob, but also because of the strong emotions that run high. For many of us, gambling in a casino is a fun pull of the arm on a slot machine. But for some, it is a serious business. Those with gambling addictions or just simply caught in the horrible wheel of trying to win back money that one couldn't afford to lose, have real heavy emotions at play. There is the intense stress, the anger and most importantly, the fear. And with Bally's playing home to a location that once had a deadly fire, its not surprising that there are reports that the Flamingo and Bally's are both haunted.

Bugsy Seigel invested a lot of time and money into the Falmingo, so it is not surprising that he would want to stick around in the afterlife and he has. He is seen most often as a full bodied apparition in the Presidential Suite, that he designed with bullet proof windows and five exits. He is also seen near the pool. There is a memorial for him in the garden and occasionally his spirit has lurked there as well. A cleaning lady quit after seeing Bugsy's ghost on the fifth floor.

The upper floors at Bally's report the most activity, which started almost immediately after the big fire. Full bodied apparitions have been seen many times. The disembodied sound of weeping and screaming is heard. The acrid smell of smoke is reported many times and the occasional fire alarm goes off for no reason in particular. A service elevator in the North Tower was the scene of several employees' deaths. Modern day employees claim that they all avoid the elevator at all costs because of the strange occurrences that happen with that elevator.

Casino goers have reported seeing a strange misty smoke in a corner that seems to be enveloping a woman. This apparition has actually been witnessed playing the slot machines before disappearing. A bluish green spirit that appears to be disoriented has been seen. A comment at TripAdvisor states, "The hotel was good and the location is right in the middle of the strip. I had a nice room on the 23rd floor. The only odd thing was that at 0630 one morning I observed a women standing in my room for about 3 minutes until she slowly faded away."

Another commentor at TripAdvisor had stayed on the 23rd floor and found the experience harrowing:
 "I had no clue about what I was getting into. I upgraded to a renovated room on the 23rd floor. Initially I was happy about the room until I encountered weird things that took place in early am...3. I had the worst 4 sleeps ever! My wife had her first night terror ever. She was facing the wall yelling and screaming at the top of her lungs, so loud I jumped out of bed clinching my chest. She was yelling stuff like OMG and leave me alone and was running towards the door. The screams coming from her were so loud that I thought security was going to be called. I was so frightened that I had a hard time breathing for like 45 minutes. This was the first time in her life she had a night terror. Other weird things were chills running through my body constantly. It started from my head and would go thru my body out of my feet and cycle thru repeatedly. I travel alot and I thought this was weird so I decided to go talk to customer service and I asked them of there was history to the room. She assured me that she had no recollection of anything on that room recently and offered us to stay on a much lower floor. I declined because I wanted to still have a bar fridge and I don't believe in ghosts or supernatural stuff, and convinced myself it was probably a bad dream that she has no memory of. My wife and I returned to the 23rd floor and as I exited the elevator, I made a comment to her that was what would you do if there was a fire here...I never made comments like that before. Again I continued to have chills, the bar fridge made banging noices, and it felt weird. The last night as I couldn't sleep I looked over at the curtains and saw clear air waving movements in the corner. I didn't want to look anymore so I slammed my eyes shut and prayed. Then as I started to fall asleep I had a bad dream and woke up instantly. It was about a man running frantically, that I thought he was chasing me, but was running for water, like a calm ocean, but was running fast in panic on the shoreline. I thought all this was crazy, and had explainations like the a/c was what gave me shivers and the night terror was from a late meal...etc. When I arrived home I was curious so I started to google things and found out that the 23rd floor is most haunted and a fire broke out in 1980 where 85 people perished. I had no knowledge of this before and will now check for history's before I book another hotel"
One of Bally's most active apparitions is that of a young boy. He is heard in the corridor of the seventeenth floor calling out for his mother. On the same floor, an elderly couple are witnessed walking down the hall and they just disappear. The man has his arm wrapped protectively around the woman.

These hauntings that occur at both casinos are not played up by management. They actually would prefer that the stories not be told as they see it bad for business. And based on some comments at TripAdviser, one might believe that. But our experience has proven that reports of hauntings make places seem more attractive. Hence why nearly every bed & breakfast in Florida claims some kind of haunting. Are The Flamingo and Bally's Casinos haunted? That is for you to decide!

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