Outdated and No Longer Relevant Laws and Requirements

Outdated and No Longer Relevant Laws and Requirements

© David Burton 2023

Foolish Laws

     As I was reading through The Jewish Press, a weekly Jewish orthodox newspaper published in New York City, I was struck by the absurdity of its containing some 20 pages of legal notices. Each of these 20 pages had some 7 columns of about 20 rows of legal notices, with print so small as to be almost illegible.[1] And remember this was just in one newspaper that mainly caters to the orthodox Jewish community in New York City. How many other newspapers throughout America are carrying similar legal notices? Why?

     What a waste of newspaper print! I find it extremely unlikely that anyone reads these notices! What a waste of money to pay for these notices that need a magnifying glass to be read. How does someone who has an interest in a particular notice find that notice. Let’s see, 20 pages, each, containing 20 rows of 7 columns means that there were 20x20x7 or about 2,800 of these notices. Go ahead and try to find the 1 notice of interest out of these 2,800 notices!

     What constitutes a legal notice and what are some of the requirements for placing such notices in newspapers?

     Legal notices are a type of court-mandated public advertising published in newspapers. There are many different types of legal notice advertising, but they all have one thing in common. Legal notices published in a newspaper come with a certified affidavit as proof of publishing. In New York, the most common type of legal notice is an LLC formation notice. The State of New York requires limited liability corporations to run an ad informing the public on the formation of the new corporation. There are also FCC, SLA liquor licenses, sidewalk cafe notices, name change notices, divorce notices (also known as dissolution of marriage notices), and probate notices.
     Usually, for insurance and bank-related notice ads, the notices need to run in a paid daily newspaper. Different types of legal notice ads have different costs. For example, a sidewalk cafe or name change notice may cost less than a hundred dollars, whereas an LLC formation notice in a daily newspaper could run upwards of a thousand dollars or more. The most important thing is to ensure that the newspaper where the notice is placed meets the legal requirement as mandated by the court.
     Legal notices can be expensive. The major newspapers are usually more expensive because they have a high circulation. But the legal ad may not need to run in a big newspaper. Often smaller newspapers are where the bulk of legal ads get placed because the smaller newspapers cost a lot less. Legal ads are required advertising. But, so as long as a paper meets the courts’ criteria, the advertiser need not be concerned with how large the circulation or readership is.[2]

     As our society has evolved, many old laws have become obsolete. While some of these outdated laws get removed from the books or updated, some fly under the radar, staying active for years after their relevance has declined or disappeared. Here are a few of these old and now irrelevant laws that are still on the books today.

  • The state of Arkansas has a law that makes it illegal to mispronounce the state’s name.
  • In Connecticut, a pickle cannot be sold unless it bounces. This law was originally enacted in 1948 to prevent fraudulent salesmen from selling unfit pickles. Today, the law still exists, but is rarely if ever actually enforced.
  • The state of Indiana requires black cats are to wear bells around their necks when the 13th day of the month falls on a Friday. In 1939, the law was put into effect to ease public stress as World War II neared. The law still exists today.
  • In Maryland, there is a law on the books making it it’s illegal to swear while driving. If you’re caught breaking this law, you can face a misdemeanor charge and a fine.
  • Finally, in Wisconsin, butter and cheese are required to be “highly pleasing.” Wisconsin has several ordinances detailing these palatable requirements for both cheese and butter.[3]
     If one looks hard enough, he/she will find that every state has its own collection of outdated, silly laws. And while these laws may never be enforced, they are still legally valid because no one has bothered to repeal them. Most of these laws are so old, lawmakers themselves aren't even aware that many of them exist.

     Some more of these outdated and crazy laws that were still on the books, as of 2014, in various states were:
  • Pennsylvania state law requires that, when driving at night, you stop every mile to send up a rocket signal. It's true. And if you see a skittish team of horses coming toward you, another Pennsylvania law requires you to take your car apart and hide it under the nearest bushes.
  • In Missouri it’s illegal for you to drive down the highway with an uncaged bear in your car.
  • When parking your elephant at a meter in Orlando Florida, the law requires you to deposit the same amount of change as you would for a regular motor vehicle.
  • In North Dakota, it’s against the law to serve beer and pretzels at the same time.
     Blue Laws are those established specifically to prohibit certain behavior on Sundays, or "God's Day." Although in general, few people strictly uphold the Sabbath anymore, many cities and towns across America still have legal reminders of this observance on the books. For example:
  • In Salem, West Virginia, it's against the law to eat candy less than an hour and a half before church service.
  • In Winona Lake, Wisconsin, it is illegal to eat ice cream at a counter on Sunday.
  • In Kansas on the Lord's Day. no restaurant is allowed to serve pie a la mode.
  • Marbles, Dominoes, and yo-yos are banned on Sundays in a handful of states.
     There are numerous laws concerning dogs. These include:
  • In Hartford, Connecticut, it’s against the law to educate dogs.
  • In Illinois, it's illegal to give lighted cigars to your pets.
  • It’s illegal to make ugly faces to tease a dog in Normal, Oklahoma.
     Not surprisingly, many of the antiquated statutes passed in the late 1800s and early 1900s were aimed at protecting the fairer sex from unwanted attention or less-than-flattering reputations. For example:
  • An old city ordinance in Cleveland, Ohio prohibits women from wearing patent leather shoes in public. The reason? Shiny footwear could afford a nearby gentleman an unintentional peep show.
  • Women in Florida can be fined for falling asleep under a dryer in a hair salon.
  • The sunshine state also prohibits unmarried women from parachuting on Sundays.
  • Forget about trying to publicly adjust your stockings in either Dennison, Texas or Bristol, Tennessee. Performing such a lewd act could land you a sentence of up to twelve months in the state penitentiary.
  • In Michigan, a woman should check with her husband before heading to the hair stylist. According to state law, her hair belongs to her spouse and she'll need his permission before she can alter it.
  • In Charlotte, North Carolina, city law requires a woman to be swathed in at least 16 yards of fabric before stepping out into public.
  • New York City has laws concerning how a woman dresses. In the Big Apple, wearing clingy or body-hugging clothing carries a $25 dollar fine.
     Not all old laws aimed at women were intended to preserve their virtue, however. Some were apparently designed to promote household hygiene and public safety. For example:
  • Pittsburgh has a special cleaning ordinance on the books that bans housewives from hiding dirt under their rugs.
  • Memphis, Tennessee prohibits women from driving a car unless there is a man with a red flag in front of the car warning the other people on the road.
     One can easily conclude that some of these silly laws were simply designed to get a laugh or to alleviate the boredom of local legislators. How else could you explain the following Texas law? "When two railroad trains meet at a crossing, each shall stop and neither shall proceed until the other has passed." But as for the rest, you can rest assured they reflect the public standards of the time. In fact, if you want to study how public values have changed over the years, there is no better place to start than with your state and local statutes. Not only will you glean some insight into our past prejudices, but also our best intentions. After all, who but a well-intentioned public official would make it a crime to molest butterflies in California?[4]

     Back in 2010, my state, the Commonwealth of Massachusetts, had the following “dumb and crazy laws” still on its books (some have subsequently been repealed or modified):
  • A Boston mayor who disliked dancing and liked to retire early once banned midnight dancing in the city.
  • A woman cannot be on top in sexual activities.
  • Affiliation with the Communist party is illegal.
  • Alcoholic drink specials are illegal.
  • All men must carry a rifle to church on Sunday.
  • An old ordinance declares goatees illegal unless you first pay a special license fee for the privilege of wearing one in public.
  • At a wake, mourners may eat no more than three sandwiches.
  • Boston: It is illegal to play the fiddle. Two people may not kiss in front of a church. No more than two baths may be taken within the confines of the city. No one may cross the Boston Common without carrying a shotgun in case of bears. Anyone may let their sheep and cows graze in the public gardens/commons at any time except on Sundays. It is illegal to eat peanuts in church. An old law prohibits the taking of baths on Sunday. Duels to the death permitted on the common on Sundays provided that the Governor is present. Women may not wear heels over 3 inches in length while on the common. No one may take a bath without a prescription. It is illegal for any citizen to own more than three dogs.
  • Both Massachusetts and New Hampshire had old laws that penalized gamblers who lost money. You'd get fined in Massachusetts if you had any money left.
  • Bullets may not be used as currency.
  • Burlington: You may not walk around with a "drink".
  • Cambridge: It is illegal to shake carpets in the street, or to throw orange peels on the sidewalk. It costs $50 extra for a permit for hurling, soccer or Gaelic football games in a public park on a Sunday.
  • Children may smoke, but they may not purchase cigarettes.
  • Defacing a milk carton is punishable by a $10 fine.
  • Eating while swimming in the ocean is prohibited.
  • Hingham: You may not have colored lights on your house if it can be seen from Main Street. Only white lights may be visible. If you live on Main Street and want to paint your house, the colors must be approved by the historical society.
  • Hopkinton: Though horses and cows are allowed on the common, dogs are prohibited.
  • Hunting on Sundays is prohibited.
  • Holyoke makes it unlawful to water your lawn when it is raining.
  • In a law that predates returnable bottles and cans, it's illegal in Boston to rummage through rubbish containers.
  • In 1659 the state of Massachusetts outlawed Christmas.
  • In Boston it's illegal to post an advertisement on a public urinal. It's also against the law to hang a vending machine on a utility pole.
  • In Boston, it's illegal to cut firewood in the street, or shoot a bow and arrow in the street.
  • In Boston, it's against the law to keep manure in a building unless the building is being used as a stable. If it is, you can keep up to two cords of manure. If you're overstocked, you need a permit to move the stuff. And you can't leave it in the street.
  • In Boston, Massachusetts it is illegal to take a bath unless instructed to do so by a physician.
  • It is unlawful to deliver diapers on Sunday, regardless of emergencies.
  • You must have a license to wear a goatee.
  • If you get caught eating peanuts in church, you can be jailed for up to one year.
  • In Provincetown, it's illegal to sell suntan oil until after noon on Sunday.
  • In Salem, sleeping in the nude in a rented room is forbidden, even for married couples.
  • It is illegal to frighten a pigeon.
  • It is illegal to go to bed without first having a full bath.
  • It is illegal to put tomatoes in clam chowder.
  • It is illegal to reproach Jesus Christ or the holy ghost.
  • It is illegal to take more than 2 baths a month within Boston confines.
  • It is unlawful to injure a football goal post, doing so is punishable by a $200 fine.
  • It's illegal to allow someone to use stilts while working on the construction of a building.
  • It's illegal to drive Texan, Mexican, Cherokee, or Indian cattle on a public road.
  • It's illegal to keep a mule on the second floor of a building not in a city unless there are 2 exits.
  • It's illegal to sell fewer than 24 ducklings at a time before May 1, or to sell rabbits, chicks, or ducklings that have been painted a different color.
  • It's illegal to take a lion to the movies.
  • Longmeadow: It is illegal for two men to carry a bathtub across the town green.
  • Marlboro: It is illegal to buy, sell or possess a squirt gun. Silly string is illegal in the city limits. One may not detonate a nuclear device in the city. It is illegal for any citizen to own more than two dogs.
  • Peanuts may not be eaten in court.
  • Massachusetts liquor stores can only open on Sundays if they are in Berkshire, Essex, Franklin, Middlesex or Worcester counties and are within 10 miles of the Vermont or New Hampshire borders.
  • Milford: Peeping in the windows of automobiles is forbidden.
  • Mourners at a wake may not eat more than three sandwiches.
  • Newton: All families must be given a hog from the town's mayor.
  • No gorilla is allowed in the back seat of any car.
  • North Andover: An ordinance prohibits the use of space guns.
  • Peeping in the windows of automobiles is forbidden.
  • Public boxing matches are outlawed.
  • Quakers and witches are banned.
  • Snoring is prohibited unless all bedroom windows are closed and securely locked.
  • Southbridge makes it illegal to read books or newspapers after 8 p.m. in the streets.
  • Tattooing and body piercing is illegal.
  • Taxi drivers are prohibited from making love in the front seat of their taxi during their shifts.
  • There is a Massachusetts law requiring all dogs to have their hind legs tied during the month of April.
  • Tomatoes may not be used in the production of clam chowder.
  • Under an old law in Marblehead, it was illegal to cross the street on Sunday, unless absolutely necessary.
  • Woburn: In bars, it is illegal to "walk around" with a beer in your hand.
  • You cannot have an antenna exposed outside of your house yet you can have a 25' satellite dish.
  • You may not curse inside the city limits.
  • You may not, at any time take a crap on your neighbour.[5]
     Article III of the US Constitution lays out the legal powers and boundaries of the Judicial Branch of our Government, permitting them to make sensible laws to protect and defend the American people and society. As our nation evolved, however, some of these statutes have simply become strange and archaic. Listed below are just four bizarre, outdated laws in the US that were still on the books as of the writing of this article. They will certainly make you scratch your head in bewilderment!
     1. In Minnesota, you can’t chase a greased pig. We have a feeling that no one does this anymore, but it’s on the books for good reason. It was common back in the day to oil up your backyard potbelly and have a little contest over who could catch him. We’re glad this one is illegal.
     2. In Alaska, an intoxicated person may not enter a bar. Sure, most restaurants suggest that bartenders stop serving patrons who look like they’ve had too much to drink. But in Alaska, bar hopping is actually illegal - well, entering a bar drunk is anyhow.
     3. In Arizona, you need a permit to feed a pig garbage. According to an Arizona statute, no person shall feed garbage to swine without first obtaining a permit. This article shall not apply to any person who feeds only his own household garbage to swine which are raised for his own use.
     4. In Florida, the penalty for horse theft is hanging. Although horse theft and murder have been an issue in Florida in the not so recent past, no one has actually been hanged. This law, which has been on the books since the 1800s, has not been enforced for over a decade. In 1923, all capital punishments that specified hanging were replaced by the electric chair.[6]
  1. Legal Notices, The Jewish Press, Pages L1-L20, 11 December 2020.
  2. How to Put a Legal Notice in a Newspaper and Save Money, Adam Ainsworth, futureofnewspapers.net,
    21 January 2019.
  3. 7 Outdated Laws That You Might Have Broken, Vishal Sunak, blog.linksquares.com, 10 April 2019.
  4. Top Craziest Laws Still on the Books, Stephanie Morrow, legalzoom.com, 10 October 2014.
  5. Massachusetts's Dumb and Crazy laws, www.ebaumsworld.com, 1 January 2010.
  6. 5 Weird and Outdated Laws in the US, Todd Coolidge coolidgelawfirmaz.com, Accessed 28 August 2023.

  09 November 2023 {Article 600; Suggestions?_83}    
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