Vegas: Howard Hughes vs. the giant shoe

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Every year, my husband and I join friends on a trip to the Viva Las Vegas Rockabilly Weekender. We go for the music. We go for the shopping. We go for the chance to not have passersby ask, “Hey, are they filming some kind of ’50’s movie around here?” when they see us gathered with our cuffed jeans and archaic hairdos. But one of our favorite reasons to go to Vegas are the strange museums.

This year, we made a stop at the Neon Boneyard, the field where old Las Vegas signs go to die. It was pretty amazing from a “I pretend I live in the past” perspective, but also from the perspective of a typography lover, because some of these signs are the very place where these typefaces were created (House Industries, I’m looking at you).

The people at the Boneyard are young (*cough* maybe even younger than me *cough*), which is kind of an amazing dichotomy considering that Vegas is all about the New, repudiating its history as vehemently as a thirteen-year-old girl with her mom at the Mall. Our guide was not only a native, but a design student at UNLV. And when it came to Vegas history, he knew his shit. I won’t presume that everyone finds the minutiae of Las Vegas signage as fascinating as I do, so I will share with you just one of his stories. But it stars none other than the Strip’s wealthiest (and weirdest?) former denizen, Howard Hughes.

When Hughes was holed up at the Frontier in Las Vegas during his prolonged leave of absence from sanity, he liked looking out his hotel window to plot his plans for the town. Blocking his view, however, was the rotating, flashing and diamond-bright sign from the Silver Slipper (now reposing at the Neon Boneyard). Not only were the lights a bother, but some say that because the giant shoe paused for a brief moment while facing his suite before resuming its rotation, the megamillionaire recluse became convinced that someone had placed a camera in the toe and was monitoring him.

Hughes would call the Silver Slipper every night, demanding they turn off the lights (and secret spy camera?) so he could view Las Vegas undisturbed. As you might guess, they were less than obliging, which only angered Hughes further. So Hughes bought the Silver Slipper Hotel & Casino and forced them to turn off the lights any time he looked out his window. He then went on to wear Kleenex boxes on his feet and pee into milk bottles. So in the grand scheme of things, Howard’s sign-o-phobia might even pass for rational.