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31 Strange But True Laws Still On The Books

March 16, 2015







All across the Internet, you will be able to find lists and lists of strange laws that either once existed or still exist depending on who’s doing the reporting. But what we found when looking at these examples, is that many either never existed or cannot be proven to have existed without searching through old, dusty print archives and records offices around the world.

“Such is the Internet. People hear something without substantiation, it lodges in their brains, and gets passed along as fact.”

Thankfully, there are authorities on the matter with legitimate legal training — people who can say that they’ve been there and seen the records for themselves and can confirm which bizarre laws existed and which legal oddities did not.

Two we turned to for 31 Strange But True Laws That Are Still On The Books! include communications law professor and LegalZoom contributor Stephanie Morrow and NYC attorney Nathan Belofsky, whose The Book of Strange and Curious Legal Oddities: Pizza Police, Illicit Fishbowls, and Other Anomalies of the Law That Make Us All Unsuspecting Criminals, is pretty much the Bible on the subject.

Included below, as the title says, are strange but true laws that are still on the books. Some hail from municipalities, some are state, some federal. But all are funny! Hold on to your hats.

1. No Margarine In Wisconsin!

Well, that’s at least how many websites will report it when talking about strange laws. The reality is that you can get margarine within the state of Wisconsin, but it comes with a series of strings attached. For instance, there are stipulations regarding the size of the container (no more than 1 pound) and the size of font on the packaging (must plainly say “margarine” and be at least as large as any other type or lettering on the label in a color of print which clearly contrasts with its background). You’ll find it on the books as Wisconsin State Statute 97.18.

I can't believe it's not legal - strange laws graphic

Image: Oddee

2. Children’s Lemonade Stands Are Illegal.

Children’s lemonade stands are part of a longstanding rite of childhood. Parents use them to teach their kids lessons on the value of working for a dollar through this method. But for a growing number of municipalities, they are against the law. Take this story from Coralville, Iowa, in which 4-year-old Abigail Krutsinger had her stand shut down by police 30 minutes after she opened it. Forbes has several other similar cases here if you think you can keep your blood pressure under control.

3. ‘Blue’ Laws

Alabama’s “fake mustache law,” wherein it’s said to be illegal to make a person in church laugh by wearing a fake mustache on Sunday, is a prime example of “Blue Laws.” (Never mind the fact that there is no mention of mustaches or church in the actual statute.) The “spirit” of the law is there, and it says that out of religious respect — mostly to Christians — certain activities, like selling alcohol, should be prohibited on Sundays.

Stephanie Morrow shared one from Salem, West Virginia, where it’s against the law to eat candy less than an hour and a half before church service. Another, in Winona Lake, Wisconsin, prohibits the eating of ice cream at a counter on Sunday. And in a “handful of states,” Morrow claims, “Marbles, Dominoes, and yo-yos” are banned on Sunday.

4. Breaking The Speed Limit … By Going Too Slow.

You can’t get a driver’s license without knowing that it’s unacceptable to go faster than the posted speed limit. While police may allow five to 10 miles over, anything beyond that will probably get you a warning or a ticket. That said, most motorists — even those who’ve been driving for a very long time — seem unaware that you can also break the speed limit by going too slow. In comments to CNN, Pete Kim of the California Highway Patrol admitted that it wasn’t a common thing, but it was possible to get a ticket if “you’re blocking traffic or creating a road hazard on the freeway.” (So a bit more pedal, slow-pokes!)

5. Bingo Sessions Must Not Last Longer Than Five Hours

According to the North Carolina Department of Public Safety’s Rule 14-309.5, the number of bingo sessions “conducted or sponsored by an exempt organization shall be limited to two sessions per week and such sessions must not exceed a period of five hours each per session.”

Bingo Sessions Strange Laws Graphic

Image: Howling For Justice

6. Canada’s ‘No Penny’ Law

While our neighbors to the north do not forbid the use of pennies, Belofsky notes that they do have limitations for accepted use. That means if Indiana citizen James Sanders had tried to pay his $702 fine with more than 70,000 pennies — as noted in this piece from JC Online — he would have been flatly refused. Canada will allow a person to pay with no more than 25 pennies. If more is owed, you’ll have to switch to something bigger.

7. Imprisonment For ‘Fake’ Weather Reports

Federal law dictates that anyone who “issues or publishes a fake weather report and claims it’s from the Weather Bureau is subject to imprisonment for not more than ninety days.” Simply being bad at your meteorology job doesn’t count as “fake,” though. (18 U.S.C. Section 2074).

8. Fortune-telling Bad, Unless It’s Healthcare-Related

One obviously antiquated New Orleans law — especially if you’ve ever been there to see just how many people are making a living at it — forbids the “business of fortune-telling, astrology, or palmistry to settle lovers’ quarrels … locate buried or hidden treasures … remove evil influences … reveal secrets … or to bring together the bitterest enemies converting them into staunchest friends.” However, “nothing herein contained shall apply to any branch of medical science.” (Probably not covered by your ACA policy, New Orleans Municipal Code Section 54-312).

Fortune-Telling Strange Laws Graphic

Image: Rod Tanchanco, M.D.

9. – 31. Roundup Of ‘Forgotten’ U.S. Laws

Two and a half centuries is a long time to be making laws. It’s only natural that in our nation’s history, some of the crazier ones would slip through the cracks and remain on the books in the 21st Century. In most cases, it’s entirely possible that lawmakers aren’t even aware that these are the laws they should still be enforcing. Because several of these don’t need a lot of fleshing out, we’ve done a quick roundup with hat tips to Morrow and Belofsky. Not all of these will be outdated, but the vast majority are. For the few scattered in that take their cues from the 21st Century — you’d have to ask the lawmakers.

9. In Pennsylvania, you actually have to dismantle your car and hide it if you’re sharing the road with a team of skittish horses. (Morrow)

10. In Missouri, you cannot, under any circumstances, drive with an uncaged bear in your car. (Morrow)

Bears Can't Drive Cars Strange Laws Graphic

Image: Wikiality

11. Florida’s elephant riders get no special treatment. If planning on parking their elephants at a paid meter, they must pop in some change. (Morrow)

12. North Dakota forbids serving beer and pretzels at the same time. (Morrow)

13. Oklahoma warns that you can expect to pay a fine if you make ugly faces at someone’s dog. (Morrow)

14. Illinois forbids you from giving your pup a lighted cigar no matter how much he wants one. (Morrow)

Dogs can't have Lighted Cigars in Mouth Strange Law Graphic

Image: World of Stock

15. In Cleveland, Ohio, women are strictly forbidden from wearing patent leather shoes, particularly if they are wearing a skirt because it could unfairly tempt a man. It’s known as the city’s “peep show” ordinance. (Morrow)

16. Florida is also tough on the unmarried woman, who plans on doing her parachuting on Sundays. Not a problem if you’re in the company of your husband, though. (Morrow)

17. Ladies, plan on chopping off all your hair for the summertime? Michigan says no unless you first get your husband’s permission. (Morrow)

18. Memphis, Tennessee, doesn’t have a problem with women driving, but they must be proceeded by a man waving a red flag. (Morrow)

Women Can't Drive Unless Preceeded by a Man Strange Law Graphic

Image: YouTube

19. In New Hampshire, ice dealers who don’t weigh the ice on request are subject to a $50 fine (Ice Section 434:7). (Belofsky)

20. Also in New Hampshire, you cannot sell a lightning rod without a license. (Belofsky)

Can't sell a Lightning Rod without a License Strange Law Graphic

Image: The Suburban Times

21. Grand Forks, North Dakota, forbids the throwing of a snowball on public or private property (City Code Section 9-0123). (Belofsky)

22. Also in Grand Forks, you cannot throw candy from a float during a parade (City Code Section 9-0211). (Belofsky)

23. Alabama frowns on taking a long time in the voting booth. If you take longer than four minutes, you can be asked if you need assistance. If not, and there is a high volume of voters waiting, you are given one more minute to vote and then asked to leave (Code of Alabama, Section 17-9-13(b) (2006)). (Belofsky)

24. Deadwood, South Dakota, doesn’t allow one to “engage in psychic powers, spirits, seership, palmistry, necromancy, science cards, charms, potions, magnetism, or Oriental mysteries (5.52.010).” (Belofsky)

25. Rhode Island’s “Mayhem” laws will slap you with one to 20 years in prison if you decide to cut or bite off the limb or member of another human being. It does have to be intentional, though (Section 11-29-1). (Belofsky)

26. Joliet, Illinois, has a real problem with you saying the name of their town wrong, and they’ve even gone so far as to draft a special ordinance that defines the proper pronunciation. “The only official, correct and proper pronunciation of the name of this city shall be Jo-li-et: the accent on the first syllable, with the ‘o’ in the first syllable pronounced in its long sound, as in the words ‘so,’ ‘no,’ and ‘foe,’ and any other pronunciations to be discouraged as interfering with the desired uniformity in respect to the proper pronunciation of the name of this city (Code of Ordinances of City of Joliet, Ch. 2, Art. 1, Section 2-8). (Belofsky)

Correct Pronounciation of Joliet Strange Law Graphic

Image: Wikipedia Commons

27. In Massachusetts, using a boom box without earphones in public can get you tossed in the clink for as much as 30 days (Crimes Against the Person, Section 265-42). (Belofsky)

28. In Manteno, Illinois, “No person shall drop, throw or place any used facial tissue or paper handkerchief upon any public way” (Manteno Village Code, Title 5, Ch. 1, Section 5-1-11). (Belofsky)

29. In West Virginia, it is a “crime against the government” to display or possess a red or black flag (West Virginia Code, Section 61-1.6). (Belofsky)

30. Millcreek Canyon, Utah has made it unlawful to “possess an unleashed dog on even-numbered days” (8.04.170). (Belofsky)

31. Little Rock, Arkansas, Municipal Code has made it illegal to honk your horn after 9:00 p.m. at any place where sandwiches or cold drinks are served (Section 18-53, Art. II, Subsection 18-54). (Belofsky)

We here at The Reeves Law Group hope you’ve enjoyed this odyssey through some of the more peculiar U.S. laws that are still on the books. Are there any in your state that we’ve left off? Share them in the comments section!

Posted by Casey Markee at 7:15 am - 23 comments
  • Chris Koszo

    “Breaking The Speed Limit … By Going Too Slow.” – If only they enforced this. Left lane hogs create more danger than speeders do..

    • Ann Abbitz

      LOL I completely agree…. of all of the laws on the list above – I absolutely wish this one would actually be enforced more often. Keep it moving, people!

    • Susan Kraft

      Maybe I’m one of those drivers that might need to lay OFF of the pedal at times though… Because, too often, I seem to come up on the ‘too slow’ offenders while they’re puttering along in the right lane at about 10 mph below the limit!

    • Jay King

      All I can wonder is what exactly they would constitute as too slow. That’s something that can vary widely based on individual perception. To some people actually going the speed limit is too slow. Yet, similar to what you stated, people driving at slow speeds that impact the flow of traffic can be danger to other drivers on the road.

  • Ann Abbitz

    So, I guess at one point Illinois was battling a serious problem with cigar puffing pups?! That is incredible! Seems funny, but you’ve got to imagine that this was something that was actually happening if they had to make a law against against it! Definitely makes you think :)

    • Susan Kraft

      Hahahaha! I laughed out loud at this one too! For some reason, I kept picturing the YouTube video of the skateboarding Bulldog – only he was puffing away on a nice Cuban cigar while skating along on the boardwalk. Love these laws.

    • Jay King

      Exactly! It goes to show how bizarre some people are. Some because of the wild things they are doing and others for taking the time out to get some of these nutty laws on the books.

  • Susan Kraft

    I’m sure glad that Cleveland is getting out in front of any potential controversy by banning that naughty patent leather shoes/skirt combo! Don’t want all these men being led astray! Hahahaha. Great post!

    • Jay King

      LOL! I suppose they are being proactive.

      I really enjoyed this post too. Very interesting and funny.

  • Susan Joshua

    It takes a good researcher to dig into these. These are real? We do not know! Though they are funny and strange, but the knowledge of these hidden laws is essential to our daily living. I believe there are still more strange and hidden laws somewhere. I will like this platform to help us dig more laws out. This is a great discovery…

  • Frank Green

    I’ve cracked myself up with the Forgotten Laws. I genuinely think that I should tell my mother she raised a criminal because going too slow, setting up a lemonade stall and 6 hour bingo sessions are within my repertoire.

    I was about to drive with an uncaged bear this afternoon…
    …but I think I just changed my mind. Anyone got a cage?

  • Jennifer Hopkins

    Sincerely,i have gone through the list and amazed at most things i took for granted.This piece will definitely chart a course for me to put certain things in the right perspective.This is a great piece and I’m definitely going to pass it on.

  • http://30plusgamer.com craigbic

    As a lifelong resident of Massachusetts, I can safely say that getting thrown in the clink for using a boombox with earphones is the least strange law I’ve encountered or heard about. In Boston, it is apparently illegal to bathe without a prescription from a Doctor but it’s also illegal to go to bed without bathing. Continuing the strange-vibe is the law that no gorillas are allowed in the back seat of cars. Yes, that’s a real law committed to paper. It’s amazing the laws that are still on the books that MUST have made sense at the time but are absolutely hilarious today! Great article!

    • Jay King

      Now those are some strange laws. They totally should have made the list. However, can’t knock them for wanting their citizens to bathe and be clean. lol

    • http://www.mediawyse.com/ Casey Markee, MBA

      “In Boston, it is apparently illegal to bathe without a prescription from
      a Doctor but it’s also illegal to go to bed without bathing”

      That’s a GREAT one Craig. Thanks for commenting!

  • Jay King

    Wow! These are some truly bizarre laws. I’m curious to know if any of these states have recently enforced any of them. That would be really interesting if they have. I wonder how citizens would react.

  • Eric Sloan

    Damn! We need license to sell lightning rod. That’s so weird :D

  • Tracey Williams

    I hate North Dakota. Don’t understand why it forbids serving beer and pretzels all together.

  • Geanie Marie

    I think my favorite is the ban on making a person laugh in church by wearing a fake mustache. Dang! I knew I was going to get in trouble for that one of these days! I had actually heard that it’s illegal to go too slow, that at least makes some kind of sense, which is more than you can say for most of these.

  • Ann Abbitz

    I can’t believe that police would actually shut down a child’s lemonade stand… but I guess nothing is TOO unbelievable anymore. Also, the 5 Hour Bingo law made me laugh… Gotta keep those bingo junkies under control!
    The Memphis law regarding women drivers… Well, I’d better just bite my tongue on THAT one!

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