By Erin Kim
NEW YORK -- There is only one place in the world where you can find an Apollo space capsule, dinosaur skeleton, Liberace's staircase, the Batmobile and a Venetian gondola. At this unconventional home just a few miles away from the flashy Las Vegas Strip, visitors get to see these, as well as many, many other rare and exotic items.
The 1-acre property belongs to Lonnie Hammargren, whose professional experiences are as varied as the memorabilia he's gathered over the years.
Hammargren, a former lieutenant governor of Nevada and a neurosurgeon who treated boxers and daredevils, keeps and even builds his eccentric collections in three adjacent homes that add up to 12,000 square feet, which he calls the Hammargren Home of Nevada History.
The doctor describes his homes and holdings as artifacts. "It's history," Hammargren said. "It's art history; it's Las Vegas history."
While there's plenty from Sin City's past -- including a scale model of the New York, New York hotel, an interior dome of a hotel's wedding chapel and Evel Knievel's motorcycle -- there's also a lot of objects from around the globe, including a spirit house from New Guinea and a replica of the Taj Mahal.
In fact, Hammargren married his second wife, Sandy, in the model of the famed Taj Mahal, and the ceremony was officiated by the president of the Mormon Church.
Hammargren bought the first home -- which he refers to as Castillo del Sol (Castle of the Sun) -- in 1972 and outfitted it to look like a Mayan pyramid and to function as a planetarium and observatory. He later bought the houses next door to store more of his findings.
Over the years, Hammergran said he has spent millions of dollars on his hobby. Knickknacks, bric-a-brac and rarities alike permeate the houses. Even the yards overflow with movie set props and a model of the International Space Station.
So, how do neighbors feel about all this? Though Hammargren said one woman tried to sue him for overbuilding the house, he generally tries to keep community members involved. He hosts a huge gathering for Nevada Day, to celebrate the day when Nevada officially became a state.
"A lot of the neighbors I try to include in things, when I have big events," Hammargren said. "That's why I delivered the glasses for the last solar eclipse to everybody in the neighborhood. I got emails and notes in the door, thanking me for sharing."
Long obsessed with space and ancient history, Hammargren installed an underground tomb in his home. But it's not just for decoration: He actually plans to be buried there.
"When I die, I plan to be pickled in vodka, preferably Swedish vodka," Hammargren said. "That's my goal in life, to be memorialized."
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