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Head-scratching Laws from Small Town America

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Laws should keep us safe, but human silliness and petty bureaucracy often derail the best intentions. For instance, the strangest small-town laws in America prove regulations don’t always have to make sense. From protecting elephants in the Deep South to regulating the height of weeds in the Rockies, these bizarre laws confirm the nation’s penchant for overreaching Big Brother-ness at the micro level. Many of these stretch back hundreds of years – they are typically outdated and rarely, if ever, enforced. But these odd laws are worthy of a good laugh.

Belhaven, NC: Your Number Two Could Cost You A Surcharge

Belhaven, NC, sought to add a service charge for residents using the town’s water supply. They started including a fee itemized as a “$2 per month, per stool” surcharge. The unusual wording led to confusion, and they’ve since updated the description to “$2 per toilet.” Whew.

Los Angeles, CA: No Dog-Mating Near Churches

LA has a law on the books saying dogs cannot mate within 500 feet of a church. This law is not reserved only for Angeleno canines; several communities in California have this same ordinance. If someone catches dogs in the act near a house of worship, the dogs’ owners face a fine of up to $500 and/or six months in jail.

New York, NY: Jumping Off A Building Is Punishable By – Wait For It – Death

When it comes to nonsensical laws, this one is near the top of the collection. In New York City, someone who jumps off a building can receive the death penalty – but only if they survive the jump. Many think the outdated law originally meant to discourage would-be jumpers from leaping. However, why would a double threat of death stop someone intent on jumping off a skyscraper?

Greene, NY: No Eating Peanuts And Walking Backwards At Concerts

This one is a real head-scratcher. The city of Greene, NY, specifically bans eating peanuts while walking backward, but only during concerts. Little evidence exists to put this law into any context, but it’s safe to assume lawmakers saw the discarded peanut shells and backward-walking as safety hazards. Why the ordinance only applies to concerts remains a mystery.

Topeka, KS: Never Scream In A Haunted House

The city of Topeka, KS, has strict rules when it comes to haunted houses. They’ve implemented regulations that prevent attendees from screaming or creating any disturbances, ensuring they are “orderly at all times.” Violating this law can result in a disorderly conduct charge, a Class C misdemeanor punishable by up to one month in prison, or $500 maximum in fines.

Joliet, IL: Mispronouncing The Town’s Name Is A Crime

Anyone with an unusual name will tell you mispronunciation can get annoying after a while. But Joliet, IL, took it to a whole new level when they criminalized mispronouncing the name. If you butcher the town’s moniker by calling it “Jolly-ette,” you could receive a misdemeanor and $5 fine. Oh, and it’s “Joe-lee-ette.”

Wilbur, WA: No Riding Ugly Horses

In the town of Wilbur, WA, equine appearances are important. The city has an active law making it illegal to ride an ugly horse within city limits. The local council has not discussed the reasoning behind this law. It’s also unclear who’s responsible for determining a horse’s repulsiveness. But one thing is known: If you violate this ordinance, you face a fine of $300.

Texarkana, TX: Horses Must Have Taillights

In Texarkana, there is a law stating horses must have functioning taillights when moving through the city at night. Breaking this law can result in a traffic citation. It’s likely a safety issue, but how does one install lights on a horse?

Natchez, MS: Don’t Let Your Drunken Elephant Onto The City Streets

In 1810 a man named Mr. Texada hosted a live elephant show on his property. To ensure the elephants gave a rip-roarin’ performance, he gave them beer beforehand. The result? Drunken elephants in the street. This led Natchez to pass a law specifically prohibiting intoxicated pachyderms on the city streets. Presumably no one has broken this law since, so there isn’t need for either enforcement or penalty.

Little Rock, AK: Don’t Honk After 9 PM Outside Places That Sell Sandwiches Or Cold Drinks

In Little Rock, AK, “no person shall sound the horn on a vehicle at any place where cold drinks or sandwiches are served after 9 pm.” This law’s origin remains elusive, and it’s especially strange because it concerns cold drink and sandwich vendors but not other restaurants or public spaces. Fines are steep: $1,000, which can double each time for repeat offenders.

Eureka, NV: A Man With A Mustache Cannot Kiss A Woman

In the latter part of the 19th century, Eureka, NV, allegedly had problems with the smooches of mustachioed men. Consequently, they passed a law making it illegal for a man with a mustache to kiss a woman. Though this ordinance still exists, authorities no longer enforce it.

Galesburg, IL: No ‘Fancy’ Bike-Riding Allowed

In Galesburg, IL, if you’re in the mood for showy bicycle riding, you might want to rethink your plans. There is a town law barring any “fancy” bike riding. What does Galesburg consider fancy? Any act involving taking both hands off the handlebars or both feet off the pedals. Kids ages 16 and younger will receive a $1 fine for breaking this law, while older perpetrators face stiffer fines, ranging from $30 to $100.

Grand Haven, MI: Don’t Throw Your Hoop Skirt Into The Street

Grand Haven’s anti-hoop skirt ordinance dates from the mid-1890s. A former resident visiting the city wrote a letter to the local newspaper bemoaning “the hoop skirts and other rubbish” littering the streets. The person throwing their hoops skirts on the road is unknown. The city passed an ordinance prohibiting such lawlessness, and the penalty for breaking it was steep for the time: a whopping $5. Adjusted for inflation, the fine is about $130 today. The law remains on the books.

Nucla, CO: It Is Illegal Not To Own A Gun

In 2013 the tiny town of Nucla, CO, became the state’s first city to require the arming of all citizens. Though you are technically violating this law if you live in Nucla without a firearm, the city chose to make the ordinance a symbolic one. In other words, you won’t face gun searches or penalties for not packing heat.

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