Curse of the luxor hotel blog post part 1

[[ daily blog post ]]:

[[ Curse of the Luxor Hotel blog post part 2 ]]

The Curse of the Luxor Hotel (Part 1)

Back in the 1990s, there were grand plans to make Las Vegas a Disney World-type destination, full of ornate themed resorts and activities for children. The Luxor Hotel and Casino, an ancient Egyptian-themed hotel shaped like a giant obsidian pyramid with a beam of light coming out of the top, was bizarre, larger-than-life example of Vegas’ (brief) family-friendly ambitions.

Back in 2020, I released two episodes of my podcast about the history of the hotel, from its construction and grand opening to its current de-themed state, plus the stories behind why some people believe the hotel is cursed.

I saw them as fun, one-off episodes about a weird hotel that I stayed at once when I was a kid. But they’ve consistently been the most popular episodes of the podcast (and they tend to be in the first page of Google results for searches about the Luxor’s paranormal side), so I’d like to revisit this in this series of blog posts.

The Luxor has a strangely grim history, which—combined with the Egyptian theme that recalls urban legends about “mummy’s curses”—has led people to label the hotel itself as “cursed.”

I’ll tell you what, though: when I visited the hotel in 1995, just a few years after its grand opening, I absolutely loved it. Now, to be fair, I was a very young child, but I remember it fondly and feel a lot of nostalgia about the original version of the hotel. Of course, I stayed there during its glory days, before (most, if not all of) the tragedies that would mar the hotel’s image. (And before the de-theming that would literally ruin the hotel’s whole aesthetic.)

In this series, I’ll talk about the history of the hotel, what made it strange and unique, my experiences from when I stayed there as a kid (which unfortunately didn’t involve anything paranormal), the ghost stories, and what the hotel is like now.

The Luxor’s construction

Let’s start with the construction of the hotel itself: They built the casino and hotel in 18 months, for $375 million (which were drawn from Circus Circus’ petty cash). There’d been a trailer park on the location before the Luxor was built.

A delightful 27-minute promotional “documentary” on YouTube tells the story of the Luxor’s conception and construction. As someone who enjoys an in-depth behind-the-scenes look at any topic (but especially amusement parks and themed experiences), it’s possible that I’ve watched it a few times.

The featurette has a positive early ’90s vibe reminiscent of the behind-the-scenes videos that DVDs used to have. (The nostalgia!) They even interviewed some of the construction crew, who seemed excited to be working on something as novel as a pyramid.

The Luxor’s behind-the-scenes UFO connections

The video focuses mostly on the Luxor’s attractions. The late visual effects supervisor Douglas Trumbull designed the shows and theatres inside the hotel. He’d been responsible for the special effects for the films 2001: A Space Odyssey, Close Encounters of the Third Kind, Blade Runner, Star Trek: The Motion Picture, and Silent Running. So a real sci-fi guy. He also designed Back to the Future: The Ride at Disney.

Trumbull talked about how his work for the Luxor was the first time someone had let him really run free, designing everything from the films to the theaters they were shown in.

Under his direction, the Luxor commissioned a film/ride with moving seats featuring an ancient aliens-type story, where two people travel to see a highly technological civilization with spaceships and laser guns and such. Everything has a vaugely Egyptian-inspired theme (it gives me real Stargate vibes, just without the military sci-fi element.)

For the attractions, they made up a whole “architectural” style that they called “crypto-Egypto.” (I’m sure that sounded more cutesy and less loaded in the early 1990s.) The miniatures and sets for the shows were all really, really detailed. One of the sets had over 1,000 lights and the cameras were “computer controlled.” It was all very state-of-the-art 1990s tech.

That gives it a hilarious early ’90s tech time-capsule element. They talk about how each image in the CGI stuff is 90 MB of data, which they call “a computer worth of data.” (If you need a frame of reference for that, the mp3 of the last episode of my podcast was 41 MB.) The CGI team also talked about how they were using new technology and that the project would have been impossible even a year before.

Anyway, the original vision for the Luxor included an interconnected trilogy of films and live performances, which I don’t remember seeing and may have been too young for. But they were really investing their attractions.

I mentioned that the production had some weird little UFO-related connections. And yes, part of that is the fact that the Luxor had an ancient alien/science fiction themed attraction made by the guy who did SFX for a bunch of alien-related movies.

But while I was rewatching the making-of documentary this week, I caught something I’d missed when I originally watched it back in 2020.

When describing the SFX, they talk to the special effects supervisor, Joel Hynek. If you’re into UFO lore at all, that last name will ring a bell.

I immediately paused the video and do some searching, and sure enough: Oscar-winning visual effects artist Joel Hynek is the son of the famous UFOlogist J. Allen Hynek. (J. Allen Hynek was the person who came up with the “close encounter” classification of UFO encounters. He also consulted on Close Encounters of the Third Kind and had a cameo appearance in the film.)

I just thought that was a funny synchronicity: this strange hotel, which has attracted so much lore to it in the years since its construction, also attracted two people with connections to UFOs and the film Close Encounters of the Third Kind. That’s not exactly a shock, since it sounds like a cool project that allowed the creative team a lot of freedom to experiment. But it feels worth mentioning.

The opening of the Luxor

The year is 1993. On October 15, a massive crowd of 10,000 guests visited the hotel on opening day. To admire the new hotel’s splendor, theming, and attractions—including the Nile River boat ride that snaked around the lobby! Like I mentioned, it was part of the ’90s wave of kid-friendly, grand hotels that catered toward families and spared no expense.

Similar resorts that catered towards kids were the medieval-inspired Excalibur (the Luxor’s neighbor, opened in 1990) pirate-flavored Treasure Island (which also opened in 1993, and which you might remember from the climax of Miss Congeniality 2.)

Xanadu, the pyramid hotel that never was

One interesting synchronistic sidenote about the Luxor and Excalibur (which sits right next to the Luxor): Excalibur was built on a site that was originally going to feature the first themed mega-resort in Vegas. In 1976, developers planned to construct Xanadu, a hotel that would feature a pyramid design and would have cost $150 million to create.

Rather than looking Egyptian, this pyramid would have been more Aztec-style. It was intended to have 2,000 rooms, a 20-story atrium, and a flaming water feature.

However, the project ran into issues, perhaps financing problems or maybe issues with sewer line installations. I read different theories for what screwed up the project.

Since the site was immediately next to where the Luxor hotel was later built, I’d imagine that they never would have built the Luxor if the Xanadu had succeeded. Who needs two pyramid-shaped hotels next to each other? I also wonder whether the scuttled Xanadu project inspired the Luxor at all.

It’s particularly poignant that the failed project was called Xanadu; it was named after the capital of Kublai Khan’s empire. (There’s also that Coleridge poem about Xanadu.)

This hotel wasn’t the only troubled major project called Xanadu. There’s something strange, or maybe unlucky, about things called Xanadu. My strongest association with the word Xanadu is the American Dream Meadowlands mall in New Jersey, which was originally called Xanadu. The project began construction in 2004 and—because of various bankruptcies, construction issues, and changes in ownership—didn’t open until 2019.

And of course, in Citizen Kane, Charles Foster Kane’s massive, opulent, and lonely mansion was was called Xanadu. So not a name with a lot of positive associations.

I’ve always gotten the vibe that the idea of Xanadu represents opulence and destroyed splendor, which feels very a propos when it comes to Vegas (and Xanadu, and the Luxor)—and maybe America in general.

Look out for the next post, where I’ll continue my deep dive on the Luxor Las Vegas.

This article doesn’t link to sources as comprehensively as usual, because I wrote it based on my original episode notes, which I penned when I was worse at adding specific in-line citations. But all of the sources I used are linked at the bottom of the episode shownotes page. And I’m not proud of it, but I can tell you that a ton of this info is from Wikipedia.

nostalgia [[ theming ]] [[ theming, hot topic, and nostalgia ]] [[ Luxor Hotel ]] [[ Las Vegas ]] [[ pyramid ]] [[ Xanadu ]] [[ Orson Welles ]] [[ Blade Runner ]] [[ J. Allen Hynek ]] [[ Close Encounters of the Third Kind ]] [[ behind the scenes ]]


Here are all the notes in this garden, along with their links, visualized as a graph.