Backstory: Casper restaurant had bootlegging, gambling, prostitution and shooting on the menu - Casper, WY Oil City News
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Backstory: Casper restaurant had bootlegging, gambling, prostitution and shooting on the menu

Mary’s Eat Shop, center, is seen at night. The Palace Hotel is at left. (Chuck Morrison Collection, Casper College Western History Center)

CASPER, Wyo. – Hidden on hundreds of negatives in yellow Kodak boxes at the Casper College Western History Center are untold ghosts of the city captured decades ago.

The trove of images are from the collection of Chuck Morrison, who spent years working for the Casper Star-Tribune and its predecessors before retiring in the early-1970s. Over the past year, the center’s archivist Vince Crolla has been methodically digitizing the pictures.

Among the latest Morrison images unearthed by Crolla are several shots of West B Street, where the non-ironically named Palace Hotel flophouse once stood. Mary’s Eat Shop was right next door for many years.

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Photos at night with hat-wearing figures silhouetted by streetlight give the block an ominous look.

The Palace Hotel and Mary’s Eat Shop are seen at night in this undated photo. (Chuck Morrison Collection, Casper College Western History Center)

Mary’s Eat Shop was operated by Mary Simms, who apparently operated another restaurant in Casper before this one called the Simms & Edwards Cafe, located at 232 West First Street. A story in a June, 1945 Casper Tribune-Herald paper featured Simms and her southern cooking shortly after she took over that establishment.

She eventually moved down to the Sandbar on 265 West B Street.

Simms and her restaurant were no strangers to the police. In October, 1954 she was arrested on bootlegging charges for selling liquor without a license, according to a Casper Tribune-Herald story. It’s one of numerous times Simms was charged for the same offense. Another woman, who lived at the nearby Van Rooms, was arrested at the same time for prostitution.

In October, 1959, Simms was arrested and charged felonious assault after allegedly shooting her estranged husband, Tommy, in the back inside her cafe. He was released from the hospital a few days later and refused to sign a complaint.

In January 1961, 18 people were arrested at Mary’s Eat Shop in a gambling raid, according to a Casper Tribune-Herald article. In March, 1962, a newspaper article said she ended up in the hospital after wrecking her car while intoxicated.

In 1964 the city proposed a petition to abate Mary’s Eat Shop as a nuisance for numerous cases of prostitution.

The story of Mary’s Eat Shop ends in 1971, when the city seized the property after Simms failed to pay back taxes. The building was soon demolished.

In September, 1973, a legal notice from the administrator of Mary Simms McKahn’s estate listed her as “deceased.” The notice advised any heirs and “all other persons known and unknown” of the county’s intent to “quiet title against the Estate.”

No obituary for Simms was found.

The area today is a parking lot for Casper City Hall.

The Palace Hotel, Mary’s Eat Shop and Cafe Barbecue are seen lined up along West B Street in the 1960s. The image of these long-demolished Sandbar relics were shot by Casper news photographer Chuck Morrison, and have recently been digitized at the Casper College Western History Center. (Chuck Morrison Collection, Casper College Western History Center)
A Casper Star-Tribune clip shows the former Mary’s Eat Place under demolition in 1971.
A feature published in the Casper Tribune-Herald in June, 1945, shows Mary Simms at her Simms & Edwards Cafe.