30 Strangest Small Town Laws in America
These surprising statutes and regulations will blow your mind.
Laws don't always have to make sense. And no, we're not talking about the Constitution or the U.S. Code or any of the political diatribes you may have seen on the news and social media. If you're on the hunt for the craziest, totally-out-there laws, look to the small towns of America.
Did you know, for instance, that there's a law that prohibits parking in front of a popular coffee chain? Or that there's a place in the continental United States where it's illegal for a chicken to literally cross a road? (No word on if that particular statute was passed for logistical purposes or to simply put an end, once and for all, to a tired joke.) Herein, we've gathered the most wacky small town laws from around the country. And if you think these are totally wild, don't miss the 7 Laws You Can Now Break Amid Coronavirus.
Frowning is illegal; Pocatello, Idaho
Pocatello passed this law after an exceptionally hard winter as a little joke and somehow managed to remain on the books. A local reporter wrote about it in the Idaho State Journal, and news of the law spread around the country. The American Bankers Association found out about the law and used the town in a national advertising campaign, which led to the town being known as the U.S. Smile Capital. The punishment for not following the ordinance is a joke "arrest." And to find out which place frowns the most, This Is the Unfriendliest State in the U.S.
Fancy bike riding is banned; Galesburg, Illinois
In Galesburg, Illinois, you have to ride your bike with both hands on the handlebars and no acrobatics. Both feet must remain on the pedals, and don't even think about doing anything "fancy." Riders under the age of 16 who get busted for fancy riding will be fined a staggering $1, which they have 24 hours to pay. After that, the fine goes up to… $3. And if the fine isn't paid up after 72 hours, it then leaps to the rate that is charged to adults, which ranges from $30 to $100.
Hitting a vending machine is prohibited; Derby, Kansas
The folks in Derby really want you to fight your every animal instinct and resist the urge to hit a vending machine, even if it rips you off. Doing so is a Class A violation, which is punishable by up to a year in the county jail. And for more interesting trivia, Here's How Long You're Likely to Live in Every State.
Biting your landlord is banned; Rumford, Maine
It should go without saying that you can't bite your landlord, but apparently it needed to be said in Rumford, Maine, where they explicitly put that law on the books. Fighting with your landlord will earn your home the designation of a "disorderly house," which is punishable by a fine of up to $2,500. And for more up-to-date information, sign up for our daily newsletter.
Painting sparrows is prohibited; Harper Woods, Michigan
Painting or dyeing birds in order to market and sell them as another type of bird is against the law in Harper Woods, where—and this is just a guess, for the record—somebody probably tried to make a fortune marketing gussied-up sparrows as parakeets. Selling painted birds is a misdemeanor.
Giving beer to elephants is banned; Natchez, Mississippi
Once upon a time, a man in Natchez invited the town over to his place for a live elephant show. Turns out, somebody got the elephant drunk first, which inspired the town to pass this law. Interestingly, the law states that you can't give beer to the elephant on the street. Maybe if you did so in your backyard it would be fine? And if you think that's weird, you may want to take a look at The Strangest Law in Every State.
Parking in front of Dunkin' is not allowed; South Berwick, Maine
There's no room for parking in front of the Dunkin' in South Berwick, Maine, but that apparently didn't stop people from trying, so the town passed a law. And that's not the only law on the books featuring Dunkin', which must be an extremely popular place to visit. It's also against the law to make a left turn out of the Dunkin' parking lot. Hopefully that business never shutters, or the city is going to have a few laws to amend.
Riding ugly horses is illegal; Wilbur, Washington
Beauty is in the eye of the beholder, but you better make sure everyone thinks your horse is good looking in Wilbur, Washington, where it's against the law to ride an "ugly horse," whatever that means. Doing so is punishable by a fine of $300.
Fighting words are not allowed—unless it's with the cops; Boulder, Colorado
In Boulder, Colorado, it's against the law to tease, taunt, or threaten somebody with the hope that your words will start a fight. There is one exception, though. It's perfectly legal to say fighting words to a cop, until the cop asks you to stop, at which point you are legally required to knock it off. The law has been amended a few times over the years, to make sure it's constitutional and doesn't restrict anyone's First Amendment rights, so now the intent to harass or annoy must be very clear.
Letting chickens cross the road is forbidden; Quitman, Georgia
In Quitman, Georgia, the answer to "why did the chicken cross the road" is "because the chicken is a criminal." Yes, it's against the law for a chicken to cross an open road. Of course, these chicken can't be punished, but the owner will be held accountable for letting his or her chicken fly the coop.
Playing with silly string is banned in public; Southington, Connecticut
The use of Silly String in Southington, Connecticut, is banned at carnivals, parades, and public places. The ordinance banning the stuff was created after a bunch of people sprayed a parade with Silly String, which stained clothing, messed up the paint on some cars, and nearly caused two police officers to lose control of their motorcycles. Using Silly String is punishable by a fine of $99.
Owning a gun is mandatory; Nucla, Colorado
In 2013, the town of Nucla, Colorado, passed an ordinance requiring the head of every household in town to own a gun, for safety's sake. Felons, the mentally disabled, and "paupers" are excluded from the law, as are people who won't own guns for religious reasons. (If you're curious, the population of Nucla is, per the latest census, just over 700 people.)
Ice skating is forbidden in June and August; Moline, Illinois
Ice skating on the Riverside Pond in Moline, Illinois, is against the law in June and August. It would be pretty hard to violate this law, though, since the average low temperature during the summer months there is in the 60s.
Dressing "appropriately" is outlawed if you're a hot dog vendor; Fort Lauderdale, Florida
Hot dog vendors in Fort Lauderdale need to keep their outfits modest; they can't have exposed cleavage, wear G-strings, or do their job in a bikini, according to the Sun Sentinel.
Tailgating is illegal after midnight; Fenwick Island, Delaware
Despite having no professional sports teams and a population of just 437 people, it is against the law to tailgate between the hours of midnight and 6 a.m. In fact, it is illegal to even be in a parked car during those hours. Basically, the town of Fenwick Island wants you to go home.
Eating watermelon in the park is banned; Beech Grove, Indiana
It might seem like the folks in charge in Beech Grove, Indiana, are out to ruin everyone's good time, but they say watermelon is banned from parks because the leftover rinds were tearing through trash bags and making messes everywhere. Locals say the law is never enforced, but it's too much of a hassle to take it off the books. Hence why it's still around.
Eating fried chicken with a fork is forbidden; Gainesville County, Georgia
You are legally required to eat fried chicken with your fingers in Gainesville County, Georgia. And unlike some of the other archaic rules out there, this law is still enforced… sort of. In fact, a 91-year-old woman was arrested on her birthday for violating the law, but was quickly given a pardon (and sentenced to come back to the county often and eat lots of fried chicken).
Whistling loudly is forbidden; Waterbury, Connecticut
Whistling (or singing) loudly enough to annoy anyone around you or inside their homes is against the law in Waterbury, Connecticut. If you do whistle too loudly, police can issue a citation, and the fee will be determined based on a schedule of fees made by the mayor and aldermen based on the city's budget that year. So if you do plan on whistling to annoy somebody, make sure to do it during a year when the city is flush.
Letting dogs mate near a church is a violation; Los Angeles, California
It's against the law for dogs to mate within 500 yards of a church. If your dog gets busted doing this, you could be fined up to $500. Just another reason to keep your dog on a leash in public.
Honking in front of a sandwich shop at night isn't allowed; Little Rock, Arkansas
After 9 p.m., please have some manners and don't honk your horn in front of any sandwich shops in Little Rock, Arkansas. The law also states that you can't honk in front of a place that serves cold drinks either. Honking outside of a shop is a misdemeanor that comes with a fine of not more than $1,000, or double the sum for each time it's repeated, which could get expensive pretty fast if you're really laying on the horn.
Growing dandelions over 10 inches is banned; Pueblo, Colorado
You can have dandelions in your yard in Pueblo, Colorado, but the moment they're more than 10 inches tall, you are in violation of the law. If you don't cut down your dandelions once they get too tall, the city can do it for you, but they will charge you labor plus $100 to do it.
Whispering in church is wrongful behavior; Rehoboth Beach, Delaware
It's against the law to whisper in church in Rehoboth Beach, Delaware. It's also against the law to make too much noise within 300 feet of a place of worship. Yes, church is a very quiet place in Rehoboth Beach. If you are issued a citation for doing this, the fine will be at least $25.
Dancing with a hat on is illegal; Fargo, North Dakota
You can wear a hat to a club in Fargo, North Dakota, but don't wear it on the dance floor. There's an outdated ordinance that prohibits it. Likewise, it used to be illegal in Fargo for girls under 18 to go to dance halls, but that rule is also no longer enforced.
Throwing snowballs count as weapon use; Provo, Utah
It's illegal to throw a snowball in Provo, Utah, which must be a really hard law for kids to not break. Snowballs are categorized as "missiles," and it's against the law to throw them at people, or buildings, or just through the air in a way that might startle someone. The town averages 43 inches of snow each year, so there's definitely a lot of temptation on the ground.
Bringing peanuts to church is prohibited; Boston, Massachusetts
Eating peanuts in church is against the law in Boston, probably because so many people were leaving discarded shells on church floors that it was easier to make a law about it than politely remind people every Sunday not to do so. (Yes, Boston is a bustling metropolis. But this law, for the record, was passed when it was but a small colony.)
Carrying a lunch box is banned; Las Cruces, New Mexico
It's against the law to walk down Main Street in Las Cruces carrying a lunch box. No one knows why the law was minted, but it was, according to popular theories, possibly created to help local businesses.
Dancing too close to another person is prohibited; Monroe, Utah
In Monroe, Utah, you can't dance too close to your partner—and also maybe not at night at all. Enough space between dance partners for sunlight to be visible is legally required there. Otherwise, you're being indecent.
Being an alcoholic is illegal; Sulphur, Louisiana
It's against the law in Sulphur, Louisiana, to be an alcoholic. A "habitual drunkard" can be charged with vagrancy, which comes with a fine of no more than $200, or up to six months in jail.
Eating peanuts and walking backwards during a concert is banned; Greene, New York
Apparently, you can eat peanuts and walk backwards any time there isn't a concert happening, but once the band strikes up, you better turn around and walk right in Greene, New York.
Eating in a burning building is banned; Chicago, Illinois
It doesn't matter if you're about to eat the greatest Italian beef sandwich the world has ever known—if you're in a burning building in Chicago, you are legally obligated to leave the building before you can start eating. And for more on how much our country varies from place to place, find out The One Thing People in Every State Can't Live Without.