Laramie Boomerang Editor Tracy S. McCracken and Manager F.M. Zimmers were arrested and charged with criminal libel on October 15, 1919.
Thus began an interesting day in the history of newspaper publishing in Laramie. Two time mayor and current justice of the peace M.C. Brown issued the arrest warrant for the two men, which resulted in their being jailed briefly.
The sensational events began earlier that summer. A man calling himself “Professor” S. Siegel had come to town and began advertising a series of dances in the local newspapers. Not much was known of Siegel’s past beyond the Boomerang’s report that he had at one time been a tailor.
The paper claimed he was a dancer and the promoter of “such feverish dances as the Tickle Toe and Texas Tommy.” The Boomerang claimed these dances were “the kind of which no mother would wittingly permit her daughter to attend.”
McCracken and Zimmers got into trouble not for running the ad for Siegel’s dances, but for editorializing about the events. They stated that “the dances have grown worse. Dim moonlight waltzes have grown to totally dark affairs. Drunkenness was only lessened by the advent of prohibition. Things have gone from bad to worse.”
Needless to say, the Boomerang feared this would be ruinous to the moral fiber of the Gem City. They further castigated Siegel for his self-promoting nature and said that while he had no academic credentials to his name, he was a master of psychology knowing “the human mind and its weaknesses.” That, they said in the paper, was “practical psychology, diverted though it may be.”
In the face of these claims, the “Professor” filed charges with justice of the peace M.C. Brown who had the Boomerang duo arrested. In an oddly worded statement before the court, Siegel said that the men were guilty of “contriving and unlawfully, wickedly, intending to injure and vilify and prejudice” the citizens of the community against him [Siegel] and deprive him of his livelihood.
Brown immediately issued the arrest warrant. This quick action was strange as Judge Brown had a long history of campaigning against all manner of what he perceived to be vices: drinking, gambling, Sunday store openings and “rowdy” late night activities by young people. It seems that Brown should have been eager to rid Laramie of Siegel. But Brown was first and foremost a champion of the law and felt the Boomerang duo was in the wrong.
The Boomerang kept up its attacks on Siegel through the latter part of October. It seemed to work.
On October 20, the Boomerang ran a front page story, under the headline “Thunderbolt.” In it, they noted that attendance at the dances had fallen off dramatically and that one evening only one couple showed up. The Boomerang was joined by city labor unions that paid for a large notice in the paper on October 22 announcing that any of its members who were proven to have gone to a dance would be fined $10. An announcement of the Union’s own dances appeared in the paper.
Judge Brown’s one time partner Constantine P. Arnold, filed a motion on behalf of McCracken and Zimmers, claiming that Brown’s justice of the peace court had no jurisdiction. Brown rejected the charge. Attorney Arnold appealed to Judge Tidball of the Second District Court and he agreed to hear the case, removing it from Brown’s court.
Based on the waning potential damage to the morals of the people of Laramie, county prosecutors moved to have the charges dropped on February 28, 1920. Siegel’s attorney, Stephen Downey, resisted their attempt. But the Boomerang and union attacks appeared to have achieved their goal.
The matter was dropped eventually, as Siegel had departed from the Gem City and no longer participated in the case. Zimmers, too, left and sold his interest in the Boomerang to McCracken.
Thus, a rather curious and notorious legal matter ended with a whimper.
Caption: An advertisement opposing the controversial Siegel Dances, from the October 22, 1919 issue of the Laramie Boomerang.