Ogden’s history doesn’t get much more fun than Harm Peery, Ogden’s “Cowboy” Mayor and resident lovable crook.
Peery, who was mayor several times in the 1930s and 1940s, was booked into jail often, mostly for alcohol or gambling violations at his bar, The Old Mill. He winked and nodded at crime in his town, figuring anything that was good for business during the Great Depression was good for all, and why stop the fun?
Peery was at constant war with the news media, which loved to cover his shenanigans, exposing the crimes Harm and the city police did little to stop. The animosity was mutual; Harm was happy to go off at the press at every opportunity.
Which brings us to Oct. 11, 1937, and this picture of two sad-sacks behind bars that you see here. Don’t they look pathetic?
Don’t kid yourself. They’re having a ball.
Here’s what happened. The afternoon of Oct. 11, following a city commission meeting, City Engineer Claude L. Coray tried to buy a pack of cigarettes out of a machine in the main lobby of City Hall. He put in his 15 cents, pulled the knob, but nothing came out.
The machine had been giving other folks trouble, so Coray decided to “fix” the machine by kicking it, pounding on it, and finally taking a pry-bar to it, spilling out change and his cigarettes. He took his smokes, pronounced the machine “fixed” and left happy.
Ogden Standard-Examiner Photographer Howard Warner, who was present because of the city meeting, decided to take a picture of the broken machine. Interestingly — and news photographers aren’t supposed to do this these days — he and reporter James Sandquist decided to improve the picture by removing the broken glass, setting the machine on its side and laying some of the packs of cigarettes on the ground.
Sandquist, the reporter, had been busy the last few days writing articles about how booze sold at bars in Ogden was contributing to juvenile delinquency, so Mayor Peery was already angry with him. Sandquist’s and Warner’s protestations that the machine was broken when they found it did them no good, and they were booked and put in the drunk tank.
They sat there half an hour, just long enough to have their picture taken, then paid $10 bail each.
Mayor Peery stayed angry, so much so that when another Standard-Examiner photographer, Ralph Forney, went to city hall on Tuesday morning, the 12th, to get another shot of the broken machine, he was chased out of the building by Peery.
As Forney described it in an article he wrote along with the main news story about the arrests of his companions that ran that same day, he met the mayor, slapped him on the back, and asked him what the trouble was.
“That Standard-Examiner’s trying to run the city,” the mayor answered, at which point they went into the mayor’s office, where the broken cigarette machine had been moved.
Forney raised his camera.
“You’re not going to take a picture of that machine,” Peery said.
“Why not?” Forney asked.
“Well, if you do I’ll smash your camera,” the mayor said, several times.
Just then a visitor came in to see the mayor, leaving Forney in the outer office with the broken machine and a local justice of the peace, Alfred Gladwell. With the mayor absent, Forney took his shot.
At which point, “I heard the mayor’s door creak and he came charging after me. He was very nearly on me when I ducked out the door. He chased me across the lobby, but stopped when I reached the stairs.”
Judge Gladwell told the mayor he couldn’t have Forney arrested just for taking a picture.
That stopped Peery, but he then looked up and said “You guys over at the Standard can just take those press cards out of your cars, because they won’t do you any good from now on.” Parking violation fees in Ogden were a long-running source of trouble, and a source of city revenue, so this was no idle threat.
Then Mayor Peery went back to his office, “slammed the door and sat down in solitude to attend to the city’s affairs.”
The story lingered on Page 1 for four days, nudging aside stories about impending war in Europe, Japanese military outrages in China, and a story about a woman’s foot being found in a mailbox in Seattle. Just the foot.
Peery stayed angry the whole time. When Peery declined to sign a complaint against Sandquist and Warner, however, the local judge hearing the case declined a motion to dismiss the charges by the newsmen’s attorney, instead continuing the case two days. The city attorney admitted he couldn’t think what they could be charged with if the mayor refused to sign a complaint, but the judge seemed anxious to charge them with something. He accused the two of only going to jail in the first place at their own request so they could have their picture taken, which was denied, of course.
On the 14th, Peery and the judge succeeded in finding something in the law books, and Peery signed a complaint charging them with “injuring” the broken cigarette vending machine when they took its picture. Meanwhile, City Engineer Coray, who told the newspaper and anyone else who would listen, that it was his foot that had broken the machine, continued uncharged.
The two newsmen were supposed to answer their charge on Friday, Oct. 15, but that day’s paper carries a final story saying that common sense had broken out during a meeting that morning of all the principals.
The story says “Mayor Peery today dropped charges of ‘injuring’ a cigarette vending machine against two Standard-Examiner newsmen on their agreement not to sue him for false imprisonment or malicious persecution.”
Through the city attorney, Peery told the court that he was now satisfied that Coray had done the damage to the machine, that Coray had paid for the damages, and that upon reflection, “the mayor acknowledged the boys are not bad boys at all, and the misapprehension was cleared up.”
So all were chums again, and “the mayor, the city attorney, the defendants, their counsel and accompanying newspapermen agreed with the judge and all joined in refreshments at a neighborhood soft drink parlor, a ‘treat’ on the mayor.”