Legal Oddities

Strange and Silly Laws

Old Chestnuts

Fortune Tellers Are Vagrants:

Not so very long ago, the Minnesota Criminal Code provided that "A person who derives support in whole or in part from begging or as a fortune teller or similar imposter" was a "vagrant" and could be charged with a misdemeanor. One would have to wonder whether any vagrant foresaw the eventual repeal of that law.

Please pass the margirin:

Not so very long ago, Wisconsin law made it a crime for "any person" to serve "oleomargarine" to a prison inmate instead of butter, unless it was deemed necessary by a prison physician for the health of the inmate.

Minnesota -- Land of 10,000 Public Nuisances

In the eternal battle against our state bird (the mosquito), the legislature declared that: "All areas wherein mosquitoes incubate or hatch (lakes come to mind here) are declared to be public nuisances, as harmful or inimical" to the health and welfare of state citizens.

Only the Bureaucracy Knows

Among the plethora of Minnesota Agencies is the little known Private Detective Board, with a budget of $252,000 (for fiscal year 2006-2007), and a staff of "1.80" full time positions.

A note from the editor

When we think about the humorous, curious, and sometimes downright silly laws of an earlier time, it wise to keep a sense of perspective.

From time to time, we all wish we could retract a few words that were once spoken in haste, or that were uttered without thinking.

We cringe when our children turn the pages in the old high school year book and ask innocently whether everyone, like you, wore plaid bell bottoms with stand-out stitching, funny shoes, and sky blue acetate shirts with oversized collars.

And what of the journal with doodling in the margins and a rambling missive about the true meaning of love and of the lyrics in "Stairway to Heaven?"

Let's face it, some things really show their age. Tastes change. Sensibilities mature. We're so much more clever than our parents. Yes, a sense of historical perspective can make us feel pretty smug, and few things give us more perspective, and more confidence in our new found smarts, than a bunch of old laws that are downright silly.

In keeping with this grand old tradition, we can proudly measure the advance of our Midwestern common sense against a few of the less sensible laws of the last generation. But then, maybe we should look cautiously over our shoulders at these precocious kids who are just now re-writing all the books and rearranging the furniture in the basement. You never know what they'll find under the stairs.