Page 19                                                     Summer 1989



Loony Laws About Jugglers, Or How You May & May Not Do It !

by Robert Pelton


Judge Roy Bean, the tough hangin' judge of the Old West, was fond of telling the story of a "smart alecky" young attorney who found himself pleading a case in the small Texas town of Sweetwater. After the lawyer's long and learned speech, Judge Bean swept the counsel's arguments aside with a wave of his hand. "What you say may well be in all them there law books all right," said Bean, "but it sure ain't the law of Sweetwater."


Many towns and cities in the United States harbor something akin to "the law of Sweetwater" in their statute books. No one knows how they got there. And certainly no one within living memory has been arrested under them. But there they are, eloquent testimonies to some poor judge's exasperation at having to wade through a daily load of weighty issues for which, in a judicial system dictated by the law of precedents, no precedents existed.


For example, Longview, Texas, has a strange piece of antiquated legislation of interest to all jugglers. The law in City Manager C. Ray Jackson's community reads, "Any person who shall juggle on any public thoroughfare while wearing a hat which would scare a timid man, woman, child or animal shall be adjudged a disorderly person."


Grand Rapids, Michigan, retains a very old piece of loony teddy bear legislation. City Manager G. Stevens Bernard will have to look the other way on this one: "No person shall halloo, shout, hollar snake, bawl, scream, use profane language, dance, sing, whoop, quarrel, or make any unusual noise or sound in the presence of a juggler on the Sabbath."


Politicos in Rock Springs, Wyoming, once passed this one: "No female between the ages of 16 years and 21 years shall juggle on a street within this community unless she is accompanied by at least two law officers." Lest there be any confusion, an amendment was soon after added to the original ordinance, stating, "The provisions of this statute shall not apply to female horses."


Citizens of Salem, Oregon, can make all the faces they want to in City Manager Russ Abolt's community. But they are prohibited from "sticking out a tongue" at a man who is juggling.


Women are banned from playing card games and checkers or dominoes while watching a juggler within the boundaries of Mayor Joe Riley's Charleston, South Carolina. Such activities are prohibited "lest they acquire a taste for gambling."


Tempe, Arizona's Mayor Harry E. Mitchell has to live with an old "feather duster" law. To wit: it's illegal for anyone to tickle a female juggler under the chin with a feather duster in order to get her attention! Single women in Mayor H.C. Wessman's Grand Forks, North Dakota, are prohibited from juggling in public places while attired in "skimpy shorts."


No person is allowed to. "soak his or her feet" while juggling within the limits of Mayor Robert Quirk's Cuyahoga Falls, Ohio. It's a violation of the law in City Manager George H. Fellows Colorado Springs, Colorado, for a married man to juggle on Sunday in front of a church. Widowed, divorced or single females can't juggle in church on Sunday in Leadwood, Missouri, unless they have the permission of a local pastor.


It's illegal to eat onions within four hours of juggling in Wellsboro, Pennsylvania. Citizens in Cedar City, Utah, have to be on guard -- they aren't allowed to juggle when their shoe laces are untied!


Boisterous adults as well as children can be penalized in Bicknell, Indiana, should they "laugh out loud" while watching someone juggle. Redbush, Kentucky, has a unique ordinance. It says no one can ever be seen juggling while barefoot.


Locating a prospective wife in Mayor Juanita Crabb's Binghamton, New York, could really be a problem. An old law states a man can't juggle on any city street as a means of attracting one or more prospective spouses.


Way back in 1578, John Florio aptly described how he felt laws were usually made. This man of enlightenment declared: "The law groweth of sin, and doth punish it." What terrible "sin" or other imagined evil could possibly have brought about some of these odd juggling laws is questionable.


But it's not really so bad these days. Back in Colonial times, people had their tongues bored through with a hot iron for cursing God. A second offense brought a brand on the forehead with the letter "B." And third offenders were automatically sentenced to death!


(Robert Pelton teaches creative writing at the University of Tennessee in Knoxville and has been collecting loony laws on a variety of topics for 20 years.)

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