Signs. It’s almost an American icon in and of itself. Whether a huge donut, an oversized pistachio nut, a purple dinosaur or a simple flashing motel light to tell us “No Vacancy”, the American backdrop has a strong history of signage and Las Vegas is probably at or near the center of all it. This is what drove me to want to see what a place called the “Neon Sign Boneyard Museum” was all about. Seemingly, it is a small operation operating on a small budget with a passion to tell visitors about the history of Las Vegas’ glorious past through signs. The boneyard isn’ particularly large in scale, but holds many of the familiar places most Americans have heard about while growing up, ranging from the Tropicana, Algiers, Las Vegas Club, Rivera and my personal fave the Stardust to name a few. The boneyard is just a fraction of what they have collected over the years and have resurrected them to pretty good viewable condition and in some cases restored them to a functioning state where the neon is actually operational.
Along the guided tour, you learn about the history of the signs, but also the politics of some and how they dictate what you see either downtown or on the Strip around signage. Very interesting I must say. The guide also educated us on the different expertise required to making these signs – from understanding science to engineering. Neon or Ne on the Periodic Table of elements, naturally gives off an orange hue and to get other colors, helium, mercury and other gases are used in combination to create yellow, blue and green. I surprised I remembered that! But before pumping any gas to create a vacuum, glass blowing experts have got to work their magic in creating tubes that can withstand pressure. Lots more techie stuff involved, but fascinating for sure.
Not much more to say about this place, but to encourage you to pay a visit the next time you’re in Vegas – you can do it in about an 2 hours door-to-door; if you’re staying downtown near Fremont St., less than that! I recommend booking in advance as tours at prime times (early morning and evenings) are usually booked. I highly encourage to book a tour just before sunset as it’s not quite dark yet not too light out. They don’t allow tripods so you need enough light to capture a cool background sky while capturing the essence of the signs themselves.
This is definitely a slice of Americana.