Backstory: Casper Harry’s businessman ‘the man in the barrel’ Yesness was a showman at heart
CASPER, Wyo. – Harry Yesness was not a man who was afraid of attention.
In fact, the man who became a downtown business force in Casper’s heyday made some of his first paychecks by gaining public attention in nightclubs and on vaudeville stages.
For decades, Harry Yesness clothing stores have been landmarks in Casper’s retail scene, and its shameless advertising has amused, if not annoyed, generations of locals.
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“Harry’s pants are always down… in price,” shouted the ad on billboards, vehicles and newspaper ads. “Look for the man in the barrel” has become her most enduring slogan, along with an illustration of the tall man huddled in a barrel. It was well known that Harry had a statue fashioned from the drawing, with water spouting from his head that greeted customers in his flagship downtown location for decades.
Harry’s driving work ethic evolved from desperation in his youth. His parents immigrated from Europe with only their suitcases, settling in Detroit, where Harry was born.
According to a 1982 Casper Star-Tribune article, Harry’s father died after the family moved to Denver. Young Harry quickly took to selling newspapers on the streets, only to be ruthlessly intimidated by older children protecting their territory. Her younger sister, Tillie, collected coal from the railroad tracks to heat their small house. She then worked as a manager of Harry’s store in his company.
Harry eventually started doing singing, dancing and comedy routines in clubs before embarking on the vaudeville circuit. He arrived at Casper in 1919 to perform and decided to stay.
Harry scooped up enough money to buy an obsolete suit ironing business and quickly sold men’s suits in a rented apartment on West Midwest Ave. As the apartment did not have display cases, he built a wagon with a large window which he used as a rolling display case. case for his clothes.
His natural ability to direct and promote almost shamelessly quickly paid off.
In the early 1920s he was selling clothes at a West Second Street store, where at Christmas he would throw piles of coins from the roof to the kids below. He was also a charity, handing out hundreds of meal vouchers to hungry people when Casper’s booming economy plunged in the late 1920s.
By 1933 he had moved his store to 139 South Center, then just 133 South Center after purchasing the building. It is now home to the Sierra West. A Harry Yesness store opened in the Eastridge Mall in 1982, as shoppers gravitated from downtown to the new sprawl.
Harry invested in Casper’s land and development, becoming a major landowner along the way, part of which he donated to the city.
Harry sold his clothing stores in 1959 and died the following year at the age of 70. The following year, Harry Yesness Park at 4100 SW Wyoming Blvd. was baptized on land he donated, located near the Harry Yesness Reservoir. The park was built on land that was part of the CY Ranch, which Harry purchased in 1940. Yesness intended to keep the land as a working ranch, but as Casper quickly teamed up after World War II world, he sold much of the ranch land in pieces to housing developments.
During the opening ceremony of the park, Yesness’s sister Tillie said, “I pray that there will always be great happiness on this earth, for this is the spirit in which it is given.
Harry Yesness stores eventually regrouped at Eastridge Mall and continued until the early 1990s.
The fate of Harry’s barrel statue was unknown for years until it ended up in the collection of the Fort Caspar Museum earlier this year.
Harry Yesness, the struggling showman who grew up on next to nothing, arrived at Casper at the right time and used his skills to become one of the city’s most successful businessmen of his time. While its shops are long gone, anyone who has gone fishing or picnicking at Yesness Pond has the “man in the barrel” to thank.