Howard Hughes: Neon Ozymandias in Vegas Seven

This week in Vegas Seven, I took a different look at Howard Hughes in Las Vegas. The story has been told plenty of times by lots of other people and even me (I first wrote about Hughes in Las Vegas in my dissertation back in 1999) but with the 50th anniversary of his arrival, I wanted to do something for Seven.

My challenge was telling the Hughes story in a way that was creative enough to keep people reading but also took advantage of the only asset I have as  a writer: the perspective of time. I wasn’t going to be able to interview Hughes or Maheu or other people with first-hand knowledge.

So I thought of Hughes as being like Ozymandias. I’m happy to confess that I only know about the Shelley poem from Watchmen, which is still one of the best things I’ve ever read.

The main piece is called Neon Ozymmandias, and it gives an account, in three acts, of Hughes’ arrival, empire-building, and departure from Las Vegas:

That was how Hughes found himself in a sealed sleeper car, steaming past the cities and through the prairies of America. The man who once set air-speed records now watched the landscape slowly peel away.

Read more: Howard Hughes: Neon Ozymandias – Vegas Seven

My theme was that Hughes’ power, as mighty as it was in his time, was fleeting. Like Ozymandias’s kingdom, nothing of it now remains.

I also wrote two sidebars:

Boundless and Bare: The Hughes Casino Empire details what he bought, a highlight or two, when his company sold it, and its final fate.

The Atomic Horror is my brief recap of Hughes’ frantic campaign against the Boxcar nuclear test.

I enjoyed approaching Hughes from a different angle and taking a different approach than straight-up history. I aspire to do more like this.

An approach they won’t use

Sheldon Adelson’s drive to find America’s most boring city notwithstanding, most people agree that Las Vegas’ tourist strategy might need a little tweak. Should the town emphasize value, or carefree fun? It’s a serious question.

Here’s one approach that I don’t think we’ll be dusting off anytime soon: Las Vegas, home of weapons of mass destruction.
nuclear tourism

Yes, that is a real postcard dating from the 1950s, when above-ground nuclear tests were one of the top tourists attractions in town. This is not an accurate representation since the test site was north-east, not due west, but I guess a mushroom cloud blossoming over the Union Pacific depot was considered more photogenic.

Man, we were into some weird stuff fifty years ago. I shudder at what they’ll think of us fifty years from now.