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Death goes window shopping

Hanging out at the Clark County Coroner’s gift shop

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Way better than your “My parents went to Vegas and all I got was this lousy T-shirt” T-shirt.

“We take cash or check,” a woman at the front desk tells me as I wait for someone to let me through the security door at the Clark County Coroner’s Office. But first I have to identify myself so that someone can come up front to escort me to my destination—the coroner’s gift shop.

It’s not something you would readily connect to a building where death—and its myriad causes—is the order of the day. In hospitals? Sure, the people within are still alive. At airports? Hey, you have to do something while waiting after a canceled flight. But … a coroner’s office? Feels kind of like putting an arcade in a morgue.

Turns out it’s actually cool. It’s not advertised one whit except on the coroner’s website, so to know about it, you sorta have to … be in the know. (Unless, you know, your first impulse when looking for gift ideas is to hit the coroner’s website.) After being ushered in, you’re led to a training room with glass trophy cases on the side. This is where you’ll find the gift shop—a section of that case, about 4 by 6 feet and containing the following:

• A “scrub suit,” including a shirt and pants, paperweights, jacket patches, skull caps and baseball hats, sweatshirts and hoodies, all with the “Clark County Coroner’s Office” logo.

• Souvenir license plates.

• “Stolen from Clark County Coroner” pens.

• Cuff bracelets with inspirational sayings such as “Embrace life one day at a time” or “Believe in yourself.”

The humor runs a bit odd in some of the other items:

• T-shirts with sayings such as, “In the game of life, our tag is it,” or a picture of a slot machine with “Cashed out in Las Vegas” underneath.

• Coffee mugs with the saying, “Here’s where you’re at when the line goes flat.”

• A business-card holder—the bottom half of a jawbone.

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Clearly, there is a sense of humor alive and well in the Clark County Coroner’s Office, which I become well aware of once I sit down to talk with Coroner Michael Murphy.

“We stole the idea from the Los Angeles Coroner’s gift shop six years ago,” he confesses. “They have a real nice one, so big it’s got a staff of two or three.”

All revenue goes toward offsetting the costs of the Coroner’s Visitation Program, a court-ordered class for at-risk youth.

And the Vegas “shop” is more successful than one would think. Murphy says the forensic phenomenon brought on by recent successful television shows (CSI, anyone?) has spurred interest. Even his own staff sports some of the gear. “We have people who are very proud of what they do. They like representing Vegas.” He made a quick convert: I bought a coroner badge lapel pin, not just because I wanted to help out, but also because I like shiny things that look official.

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Ken Miller is Las Vegas Weekly's associate editor, having previously served as assistant features editor at the Las Vegas Sun ...

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