By on October 7, 2021

A newspaper photo shows Harry Yesness posing in front of the former Casper Bank Building on the corner of Second and Center Street shortly after he purchased the property in 1957. Yesness, a struggling vaudeville performer, arrived in Casper during its first oil boom and started a successful clothing store.

CASPER, Wyo. – Harry Yesness was not a man who was afraid of attention.

In fact, the man who became a downtown business force during Casper’s heyday made some of his earliest paychecks getting the attention of audiences at night clubs and on vaudeville stages.

For decades the Harry Yesness clothing stores were landmarks in Casper’s retail scene, and his shameless advertising amused, or perhaps annoyed, generations of locals.

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“Harry’s pants are always down…in prices,” screamed advertising on billboards, vehicles and newspaper ads. “Look for the Man in the Barrel” became his most enduring slogan, along with an illustration of the tall man huddling in a barrel. It was well known enough that Harry had a statue fashioned out of the drawing, with water spouting from his head that greeted customers at his flagship downtown location for decades.

A newspaper ad from the early 1920s shows Harry Yesness’s use of broad humor, as well as the newest store he opened during his early success in the clothing business.

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 dad died after the family moved to Denver. Young Harry soon went to work selling papers on the street, only to be mercilessly bullied by older kids protecting their turf. His younger sister, Tillie, would gather coal from the railroad tracks to heat their small house. She later worked as Harry’s store manager in his business.

Yesness covered his delivery car with advertising and slogans, making it an unmissable part of Casper in the early 1920s.

Harry eventually started doing singing, dancing and comedy routines in clubs before hitting the vaudeville circuit. He arrived in Casper in 1919 to perform and decided to stay.

Harry scrounged enough money to buy an obsolete suit pressing business, and soon sold men’s suits from a rented apartment on West Midwest Ave. Since the apartment didn’t have display windows, he built a wagon with a large window he used as a rolling display case for his clothing.

Harry Yesness used a clevery converted wagon, installed with a large window and electric lighting, to display suits during the businesses early years.

His natural ability for showmanship and almost shameless promotion rapidly paid off.

By the early 1920s he was selling clothing from a store on West Second Street, where on Christmas he would toss out heaps of coins from the roof for children below. He was also charitable, giving out hundreds of meal tickets for hungry people when Casper’s boom and bust economy took a dive in the late 1920s.

By 1933 he had moved his store to 139 South Center, and then just over to 133 South Center after he purchased the building. It is now home to Sierra West. A Harry Yesness store opened in the Eastridge Mall in 1982 as shoppers gravitated from downtown towards the new sprawl.

Harry invested in Casper land and development, becoming a major landowner along the way, some of which he donated back to the city.

Harry sold his clothing stores in 1959, and died the following year at age 70. The following year, Harry Yesness Park at 4100 S.W. Wyoming Blvd. was christened on land he donated, located near Harry Yesness Reservoir. The park was built on land that was part of the CY Ranch, which Harry bought in 1940. Yesness intended to keep the land as a working ranch, but as Casper rapidly crew after WWII, he sold off much of the ranch land in pieces for housing subdivisions.

Harry Yesness Clothing Store at 133 South Center. (Chamber of Commerce Collection, Casper College Western History Center)

During the park’s opening ceremony, Yesness’ sister Tillie said, “I pray that there will always be great happiness on this land, for that is the spirit in which it is given.”

The Harry Yesness stores eventually consolidated at the Eastridge Mall and carried on into the early 1990s.

The fate of Harry’s barrel statue was unknown for years until it ended up in the Fort Caspar Museum’s collection earlier this year.

A likeness of Casper clothing store operator Harry Yesness in a barrel was a local landmark at his downtown store during the 20th-century. The curiosity was stored in a local home after the stores closed until being donated to the Fort Caspar Museum. (Dan Cepeda, Oil City)

Harry Yesness, the struggling showman who grew up with almost nothing, came to Casper at the right time and used his skills to become one of the city’s most successful businessmen of his era. While his stores are long-gone, anyone who’s gone fishing or had a picnic at Yesness Pond has “the man in the barrel” to thank.