This year I spent Spring Break in Vegas, but I don’t think my story was worth blogging about. As expected, there was a lot of drinking, eating, clubbing, and gambling as is common in Sin City–not all that interesting. Instead, I thought I’d share my great-grandmother’s story about her time in Las Vegas.
In the 1940’s, my great-grandmother Nora was in her 30’s, ready widowed once and remarried. She followed her new husband to the Nevada desert, where he owned a small casino on the gritty streets of Las Vegas. Back then, Vegas didn’t have the glitz and glamour of the Strip. Mobs and mafia bosses ran the streets and the only people trying their luck at the slot machines were precisely those who were down on their luck–lower class working people and gambling addicts. Vegas was a dangerous place back then: she was even robbed at gunpoint once while working at the casino.
At any rate, it was common to pawn off family treasures to settle gambling debts and because of that, my great-grandmother amassed a small collection of pawned jewelry. Her favorite piece was a diamond wedding ring set that a man came in with one day. What made it special was the intricate mechanism that locked the engagement ring and wedding ring together, unparalleled to anything made today. I’m not sure what happened to the rest of her collection, but that ring traveled with her as she survived the mean streets of Las Vegas in the mid-century to finally make it out to San Francisco, California.
Currently the ring sits in its safety deposit box as a family heirloom, never worn but a reminder of my great-grandmother and her time in Las Vegas. I always wondered about its former owner though: was it some spurned love or adulterous marriage that drove him to pawn the ring? I guess I’ll never know.