I cannot believe how cool this is.
For me, as a news reporter and as a historian, Harmon Peery has always been an object of both mystery and fascination.
Mystery because he lived and worked so long ago. Fascination because he was such an amazingly larger than life personality. He was a scoundrel, a rogue, a crook and liar. He was lovable and brash and made no bones about anything.
And now, thanks to the kind assistance of the Standard-Examiner, we have available, in digital format, both here at Union Station and at the Weber State University Special Collections, a massive window on Ogden’s Cowboy Mayor.
It is hard to say how great these files are.
From the day he announced for mayor in 1933, until the day of his death on Jan. 24, 1961, Harm made the paper hundreds of times. Every time he was in a news story a very hard working person at the Standard-Examiner would cut the story out, stamp it with that day’s date, and carefully paste it into a file folder. The Standard has about 25 of those folders in its morgue.
For years the lady who did that was Donna Bingham, a dear person who started working at the Standard in the 1940s. She only married once, during World War II, to a guy who went off to war to fly airplanes and never came back. From then until the 1990s Donna’s whole life was the Standard and those files, thousands of them, on every subject that made the paper.
Harm Peery’s file is particularly fun. In it we see every bit of fun Harm got in to: How he went to war with Salt Lake City over traffic fines, Pioneer Days, gasoline sales and much else.
You have to remember, in 1934 Utah was in the depths of the Great Depression. Utah’s unemployment rate was 25 percent, or higher. Towns like Ogden were desperate for anything that would boost business and bring in money.
Harm was a business owner as well as politician. Some might argue he was more about business than politics. He took the small 24th of July observation Ogden had been having and, in 1934, made it a major state-wide promotion, with a rodeo, a huge parade, and a lot of publicity.
To lure shoppers to Ogden from Salt Lake City he promoted a weekly city lottery, offering up a free car to the winner. He sold gasoline from the city’s pumps at a nickel a gallon less than Salt Lake City dealers were selling it. In honor of leap year in 1934 (when, so we are told, women can ask men to get hitched) he offered a free wedding ceremony to anyone who came to him. If they would agree to move to Ogden, he’d also offer a free building permit.
This promotion hit its height in 1935 when King Edward VIII of England abdicated his throne to marry American divorcee Wallis Simpson. Harm promptly offered to perform the ceremony, for free, and said if the happy couple would wait and get hitched during Pioneer Days he’d throw in a free honeymoon trip Yellowstone Park.
They didn’t take him up on the offer — they went to France — but the story went national, which was the point.
Harm had little use for laws against gambling and drinking. Ogden’s 25th Street was a wide-open party, 24-7, and Harm felt it only needed regulating.
His loose attitude towards the law led to him being arrested numerous times for violating operating hours, having gambling devices, selling to minors,and so on. This led, during his campaign for re-election in 1947, to a memorable exchange between him and Abe Glasmann, editor of the Standard-Examiner, which Abe reported in an editorial:
Harm argued to Abe that taxes needed to be cut to help out local businesses. Abe, a local businessman, said they didn’t need it.
Said Harm: “Those laws are damnfool laws, like midnight closings. I don’t believe in them. Let’s have gambling. Let’s let the people have some fun. Let the businessmen make some money.”
Abe said Harm was entitled ot his opinion,”but Harmon, as a public official you were both corrupt and dishonest.”
Abe said the paper would not be backing Harm. It didn’t matter. Harm was reelected.
The clip files have been carefully digitized and are now in the archive of both Union Station Foundation and Weber State University Special Collections.