The Standard-Examiner had a wonderful story about Mayor Harm Peery the other day (click here!) that looked at his role in
starting the Pioneer Days Rodeo.
Which, yes, he did do. In an era when the Great Depression was on, Harm was a business man who knew that he needed to juice up the economy, to get things moving. With Utah’s unemployment edging up to 25 percent, banks closing and malaise spreading, he also knew folks were hungry for some fun.
And Harm, whose family had a long history in local politics (his father had been mayor) and business, was just the guy to do it.
Harm was a showman. He built Peery’s Egyptian Theater on Washington Boulevard in 1924, and opened up other theaters around the west. The first story in the Standard-Examiner’s extensive file on him is not about politics, it’s about him opening a new Orpheum Theater in Evanston, Wyo.
Peery’s bombastic ways as mayor reflected his life in general. As early as 1911 he was getting speeding tickets for driving one of the first cars in Weber County too fast. In one case he was fined $20 for speeding around the corner of 24th and Grant in Ogden. $20, in 1911, was a lot of money, similar to $500 today. Probably he was just showing how good his cars were — in 1910 he opened the Hupmobile dealership in Ogden.
The old copies of the S-E show him getting zinged several times for automotive offenses — speeding and parking tickets plagued him even while mayor.
He always, very publicly, paid the fines.
Being the kind of guy he was, how could he not be popular? He was elected to three successive 2-year terms staring with 1934.
He was defeated in 1939, probably because of a financial scandal surrounding his signature event, the Pioneer Days.
In March of 1939, L.C. Smith, a retired superintendent of the Ogden Union Railway and Depot Corporation, which ran Union Station for the railroads, filed a lawsuit against Peery, his cronies, and Pioneer Days. His suit alleged that, while ostensibly founded for the benefit of Ogden, Pioneer Days was really a scheme by Peery and his pals to run rodeos and other amusements for their own benefit.
Says the suit, “not withstanding the fact that all of the money that came into the possession of said Ogden Pioneer Days, Inc., was the money of said Ogden City and public money, that nevertheless the said individual defendants had taken and used large and divers sums and amounts of the money coming into their hands as officers of the Ogden Pioneer Days, Inc., for their own personal use and benefit.”
The suit was long and drawn out, but Smith won. Peery and pals had to pay back $17,000, which would be like writing a check for $300,000 today.
So Peery lost that year, but never changed. He kept running his bar and dance hall, the Old Mill, and kept flouting the law. He had pinball machines and slot machines. He stayed open after hours. He kept parking illegally. As recently as 1960 he was getting busted for selling beer to minors. “I’m just trying to run a poor man’s club,” he told the jury after that one, and they bought it.
People, apparently, would buy a lot when Harm was selling. In 1947 he got so sick of folks harassing him over it all that he ran for mayor again, and he was blunt about his intention: He was doing so to flout the law.
This is made clear in a marvelous piece of journalism, published in the S-E in October of that year by none other than Abe Glasmann, son of the newspaper’s founder and the publisher for many, many years.
It is clear Abe had no love for Harm, and Harm had none for Abe, but there was respect there. On Oct. 26 Harm published the following, which I have to assume is a reasonably accurate rendition of the police but biting conversation the two men had, keeping in mind that Abe was doing the writing. You can almost hear him chuckling as he’s typing away, too:
Two days after the primary election, both candidates for mayor dropped into the Standard-Examiner offices and were officially interviewed.
Harman Peery came in first.
“”Lo, Abe,” said Mr. Glasmann.
“How about some articles in the paper, Abe?” said Harman.
“What kind of articles, Harman?”
“Why, articles to support me,” Harman replied.
“No can do, Harman. We don’t see things alike.”
Harman: I can’t understand your not supporting me, Abe; our interests are the same. You are a big taxpayer. We got to get taxes down.
Glasmann: I don’t mind the increases in taxes, Harm. On our business property our rents, like those of the Peery estate, have increased faster than the taxes. We’re happy about that. On our homes it is the only increase in the cost of living that is reasonable. All other costs of buying clothes, food, repairs and so forth have more than doubled. City and County employes have had their salaries increased. I’m really surprised that the tax increases are so moderate.
Harman: Well, we can cut them by having gambling. I don’t mean big gambling, but little gambling — slot machines, pin balls like they have in other parts of the country.
Glasmann: But Harman, that’s against the law.
Harman: Those laws are damfool laws, like midnight closing. I don’t believe in them. Let’s have some gambling. Let the people have some fun. Let the business men make some money.
Glasmann: Harman, I’ve always said that personally I do not think you took any of the graft collected in your administration, that you were personally honest.
Harman: Thanks, Abe.
Glasmann: But Harman, as a public official you were both corrupt and dishonest. I believe, Harman, that you have a right to advocate any kinds of laws or conditions, open gambling, prostitution or what not, but as a public official you should uphold the laws of the land.
Harman: Those laws are foolish laws like the twelve o’clock closing. I can’t make a living at the Old Mill and close at midnight. Why, last summer a couple of cops came in and saw some slot machines. “We ought to take those machines,” they said. “We wish somebody were playing them. We’ll be back later when there are more people around.” I told them that i had my cards printed announcing for mayor, but that if they would quit persecuting me I wouldn’t run for mayor. All I wanted was to be left alone.
Glasmann: In other words, you agreed if you could run the Old Mill after twelve o’clock and run slot machines you wouldn’t run for mayor.
Harman: That’s right. If they would leave me alone. Abe, let’s get together, cut taxes and have gambling, not big gambling but little gambling, the kind that doesn’t do any harm, then lets let the people have some fun and let the business man make some money and let the taverns stay open after midnight. They can’t make any money with a midnight closing.
Glasmann: Harman, said I said before, we don’t see alike. You have been arrested and convicted more than 20 times
for open violation of the law. I think your being mayor has always been bad for Ogden — bad influence and bad publicity. We have tried to keep the newspaper out of local politics. If we take any stand in this election it will be against you.
Harman: Sorry about that, because I think we should work together.
Pretty brutal, huh? But Harm still won.