Looking at the Process of Extinction in Las Vegas

Liberace Museum; Liberace poses with his brother, George, at the Liberace Museum on April 15, 1979.

One of the easiest ways for me to understand the process of transmutation lies in another, but related process, extinction. In the classical Darwian sense, extinction results from an inability to successfully compete for the resources necessary to sustain the species.  That probably is always a reasonable way to describe the process of extinction;  however, sometimes conditions change and the food or some other necessary element in the environment disappears.  That has happen a lot in the course of the history of the planet; the weather is always changing in what seems like a huge pendulum swinging from very cold – a world covered by snow and ice – to very warm, from very wet lush with vegetation and animal to a very dry – world covered by immense deserts and very little life.  There is one other factor – called punctuated equilibrium – where some sudden act of nature totally changes the landscape over night, earthquakes, volcano eruptions and meteorites can over night change everything and drive many species into extinction – like what happened to the dinosaurs.

However, most extinctions happen more slowly and are related to gradual environmental changes.  We are witnessing one in Las Vegas now – the Liberace Museum will close on October 17th.  Just a short 50 years ago, Liberace was the biggest name on the Strip, he got paid the most money, $50,000 a week in 1955, of any entertainer on the Strip and probably in the country and he drew the biggest crowds.  Liberace was bigger than Vegas, he had star power like no one else in his time; he was flamboyant, literally flaunting conventions in music, showmanship and public displays of his sexuality.  However, Liberace’s peak was a long time ago and all of those fans are getting older, much older – and they are dying.

Few dead men generate new fans and Liberace is no exception, there no new fans coming along to fill the void left by the dead ones. That for the museum means no food – the food of any commerical enterprise is a customers spending money.  In its heyday, the Liberace Museum was as big a draw as Boulder Dam, Vegas Vic or any of the icons of the region, over 450,000 people a year visited the museum in those days.  Now it is less than 50,000 and dwindling. The museum is going to try and take the museum to the people and go on tour; it is my guess, however, that there are simply not enough people who even know who Liberace was, much less fans that willing to pay a few dollars to see his outfits, pianos or jewelry.

Many of the events I have mention in the last few blogs, Burning Man, Hot August Nights, Great Reno Balloon Race, National Air Races, Best in West Nugget Cook-Off and the Reno Rodeo are facing change, even if there is not immediate threat of extinction; they will forced to change as economies, interests and demographics change.  Any event that is based in a particular generation, fad or other temporal condition is always endangered as those conditions recede from public and media attention.  Even in the ones the have staying power there is change within the typical drought and drenching cycles.  There may be some that have universal appeal that will keep them alive as long the basic societal structure remains in place.

There is a horse race in Siena, Italy has been run since 1656, but it is an adaption of events that were over 200 years old the first year it was held and there are some religious festivals, holidays and ceremonies that are thousands of years old – but all are based on something more elemental that the generational fads that create the likes of Liberace.  Our own Fourth of July celebration will last in some form or other – differently in every locale – as long as the country lasts.  But most of the “big draws” of today that to us seem certain to succeed and be a permanent part of the landscape are just a couple of steps behind Liberace in the Grand March of Time.


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