A Publication of WTVP

“A hundred years ago, it could take you the better part of a year to get from New York to California; whereas today, because of equipment failures at O’Hare, you can’t get there at all.”

—Dave Barry, on the joys of travel

While making my first trip to New Orleans for Mardi Gras during my senior year in college, I distinctively remember my good-hearted, but somewhat intellectually challenged friend, turning to me on the plane, cocktail already in hand, and saying, “I can’t believe we’re heading to a place with no laws for four days. It’s gonna be incredible.” Needless to say, it came as quite a shock to my friend that, less than six hours later, he was being thrown into the back of a paddywagon. When I picked him up at the police station the next morning and asked what happened, he replied, “Apparently it is against the law in New Orleans to hang off a balcony with one hand and pour beer on the crowd with your other hand. Who knew?”

I thought about my friend the other day while reading an email which had been forwarded to me entitled “Strange Laws Still on the Books in Some States.” While the email did not identify New Orleans’ prohibition on hanging off a balcony as a “Strange Law,” it did list a number of other so-called laws I found difficult to believe. Being that this is the time of year many families begin planning their summer vacations, I thought a brief article getting to the bottom of these so-called “Strange Laws” was in order.

As it turns out, that email has been making the rounds for a number of years. To my surprise, some of the “Strange Laws” identified in the email actually exist. Some of the others, while technically accurate, are gross distortions of the actual laws. The vast majority of “Strange Laws,” however, are not actual laws, but simply urban legends kept alive in emails like the one I received.

For instance, it is rumored that in Florida it is unlawful for any person to imitate an animal. After researching this issue, I can assure those traveling to Florida that no laws will be broken by mimicking a Florida Marlin. Likewise, in Alabama, rumor has it that it is illegal to wear a fake mustache that causes laughter in church. If you intend to travel to Gulf Shores, Alabama, this year, feel free to wear your faux mustache to church, because this so-called law does not exist.

Even our home state of Illinois is rumored to have “Strange Laws.” In Illinois, it is supposedly illegal for a baseball team to hit the ball over the fence or out of a ballpark. It should come as no surprise that this law does not exist. In fact, over the last century, it seems the only individuals who have taken measures to ensure compliance with this “law” play for the Chicago Cubs.

Although the previously mentioned “Strange Laws” are entirely fictitious, others are at least partially accurate. In South Carolina, many believe that it is illegal to use a yoyo to catch fish. This rumor originates from current South Carolina law, which provides that “it shall be unlawful to use yoyos…in the freshwaters of this State.” The South Carolina legislature defines “yoyo” as a “device to which ‘set hooks’ are attached which is activated by spring-like devices.” Therefore, while it is true that “yoyos” may not be used to catch fish, the term “yoyo” as defined by the legislature does not include the favorite childhood toy.

Other “Strange Laws” seem to have originated from obscure readings of common law rulings. Take, for example, a court case which holds that a motorcycle owner must pay a fine for revving his motorcycle excessively loud at night during the week. When taken out of context, this “Strange Law” could appear as “No motorcycle owner shall operate a motorcycle after 8pm on Monday.”

Travelers, however, should note that many “Strange Laws” actually exist.

For instance, if you plan on visiting Tennessee this summer, make sure to leave your pet skunk behind. Tennessee law provides that “it is unlawful for any person to import, possess or cause to be imported into this state any type of live skunk.” Violation of this law could subject you to 30 days in jail or a $50 fine.

If Alabama is your summer destination, do not expect to attend a bear wrestling match. In Alabama, a person commits the offense of “bear exploitation” if “he or she knowingly promotes, engages in, or is employed at a bear wrestling match.” Violation of this law is a Class B felony, which could result in over two years in prison and a $30,000 fine.

Visitors to Alabama should also avoid partaking in a friendly game of pinochle on Sundays. Alabama law states that any person “who engages in…gaming or card playing on [Sunday]…shall be fined not less than $10, nor more than $100, and may also be imprisoned in the county jail, or sentenced to hard labor for the county, for not more than three months.”

If traveling to Fort Thomas, Kentucky, make sure to keep your pet on a leash. A local ordinance prohibits pets from “molesting passing vehicles.” Any person found guilty of violating this ordinance is subject to a fine of between $50 and $100.

Finally, if you happen to be a pig farmer traveling to Florida, make sure to pay special attention to your pregnant pigs. Under Florida law, confining any pregnant pig to a small enclosure could result in a fine of up to $5,000.

In conclusion, if you intend on traveling this summer, remember that while most “Strange Laws” are either urban legends or distortions of the actual law, some “Strange Laws” still exist. Knowing about these “Strange Laws” might just help you avoid being tossed into the back of a paddywagon while on vacation, and having to ask yourself, “Who knew?” iBi