Blue Laws #2: Don’t Shave on Main Street or Catch Lizards at Night

On this Memorial Day weekend, besides remembering those who have died in military service, it’s only fitting to also recall tidbits of American history. Tidbits in the form of Blue Laws. Last time we pondered the idea of why donkeys aren’t allowed to sleep in bathtubs.

But have you ever wondered why people don’t shave in the middle of Main Street?  

Frankly, I never thought about it until I saw a list of Blue Laws. This was the law in Tylertown, Mississippi, back in the day. So it raises a question. What in the world happened in Tylertown that required this law to be enacted? 

Toss this question out at the dinner table and see where it takes you.

Blue laws (sometimes known as Sunday laws) were intended to regulate Sunday activities back when most people went to church and observed Sunday as a day of rest.  To this day, some of those laws are still in the books, though considered obsolete. And most seem irrelevant to which day of the week it is. Generally, they governed family activities, spending, and public behavior.

A few examples of American Blue Laws:

  • Two or more persons may not congregate for the purpose of discussion on the sidewalks. (Santa Ana, California)
  • It is unlawful to shave in the center of Main Street. (Tylertown, Mississippi)
  • Catching lizards at night is prohibited. (Louisiana)
Courtesy of Visual Hunt

I use Blue Laws as a springboard for writing in my middle school and high school fiction writing classes. Students pick from a list of about 20 laws and brainstorm, “What event occurred that instigated the making this law?”

This assignment is relegated to the domain of tall tales—like Paul Bunyan or Pecos Bill—so kids can go beyond the realm of possibility.

This puts the creative gears in motion. Following is one student’s rendition of how this law came into effect: “Two or more persons may not congregate or the purpose of discussion on the sidewalks.” Using creative license, the author changed the setting from Santa Ana, California to Tennessee. 

Sidewalk Talk — by C.S.

In the town of Horsefly, Tennessee, there is a law that a police officer may make a new law, whenever he thinks it necessary. This is a story of how one of those laws were made.

Lizzy Hecklepeckle was rocking in her chair on the upper porch, enjoying the cool, eighty-degree weather, and looking for constellations. She munched on an ice cube. It had been a lazy summer day, but laziness did not mean relaxation. It meant existence was unbearable. Even breathing took concentration.

From her porch she thought she saw someone in front of the house. She did. Someone was sitting out on the sidewalk with a candle. What they were doing she could not tell, and she called to her husband George.

George was a cop who had already been retired ten years. Still, he was one of five active cops in town, and some said he was the most active one. He was still called to duty fairly often, especially by his wife.

“What is it now, Liz?”

“There is someone on the sidewalk, George, I swear it. I’m not seeing things this time. I’m not making things up like I did so you could get the ‘Best Cop of the Year in Horsefly Award.’”

George sighed and leaned over the railing. There was no one. “Now, stop it, Liz, come on. It’s pretty chilly out here. Let’s just go to bed. I’m exhausted. Besides, if there is someone, it’ll be safer indoors.”

Liz agreed, and the elderly couple linked arms and shuffled inside the house.

The next morning, however, George got a phone call.

“Yes, Hecklepeckle’s residence.”

“George? This is the police department again. We’re asking you to do a favor for the boys. They got a phone call last night that someone was sitting outside your house with a candle on the sidewalk. We figured you would do the job since it was in front of your house. It’s not that we’re being lazy or anything, just–”

“Yeah, I know. Liz was the one who called you, wasn’t she?”

“Well, she does take up ninety-eight percent of our calls.”

“Don’t worry, old boss. I’ll take care of it.”

He walked outside to the scene of the crime. To his amazement, there was proof that someone had been there. A very realistic chalk picture of two people stared up at him. It very well resembled him and his wife.

Each morning, a new neighbor would wake up with a picture of his face looking at him, but the culprit was not found. The talk of it spread throughout the neighborhood, until that Saturday, when everyone started coming out and chatting about it.

People were everywhere, gabbing, gossiping, and giggling about the latest picture, and George couldn’t stand it any longer. He was walking around with his old notebook that he had used for years, trying to interview the victims. 

George was frustrated. There was too much noise, and he was trying to do his job. “I’m makin’ a new law,” he shouted. “There aint’ gonna be anymore conversations on the sidewalks. Not even two people. Ya’ll be as silent as those pictures of you.”

From that day on, not one word was said to another on the sidewalks of Horsefly, Tennessee.

********************************

If you put your mind to it, you could come with a whole different scenario as to why people aren’t allowed to congregate on the sidewalks to talk.

Sometimes it just takes a few questions to prime the pump. Think about what must have happened to cause so much trouble that the authorities had to make a law against shaving in the center of Main Street.

  • Was it common for men to shave in the street at one point?
  • How many times did it happen?
  • Why was someone shaving in the street anyhow?
  • Did it cause an accident? 
  • Who or what was hurt?
Courtesy of Visual Hunt

Or take the law “Catching lizards at night is prohibited.” 

  • Was it legal to catch lizards during the day?
  • Is nighttime a better time to catch lizards? If so, why?
  • Who wanted to catch the lizards and why?
  • Was there a lizard shortage? 
  • Were the lizards pests or minding their own business?
  • What happened at night when someone went lizard hunting?
  • Did someone get hurt, lost, or trapped?
Courtesy of Visual Hunt

My challenge to you

While you’re sitting around the supper table with your family tonight, brainstorm about one or more of these laws, and see what you come up with. Or go a step further and write your story down. 

  • Two or more persons may not congregate or the purpose of discussion on the sidewalks. (Santa Ana, California)
  • It is unlawful to shave in the center of Main Street. (Tylertown, Mississippi)
  • Catching lizards at night is prohibited. (Louisiana)

Or consider Blue Laws from my previous post:

  • Donkeys are not allowed to sleep in bathtubs. (Brooklyn, NY)
  • Throwing a snake at anyone is illegal. (Toledo, Ohio)
  • Sleeping in a cheese factory is illegal. (South Dakota)

So what’s the story? How do you think these laws came into being? (Creative fancies only, no facts allowed.)

Please add your comments below. I’d love to hear from you!

Ever musing,

Laura

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5 thoughts on “Blue Laws #2: Don’t Shave on Main Street or Catch Lizards at Night

  1. I’d heard these laws were also created to catch criminals when they couldn’t prove they’d done some other crime. So the blue law “can’t eat ice cream with a fork” caught a murderer or something who happened to have a weird penchant for never using spoons on frozen concoctions. Since they couldn’t prove the murder, they strung him up on the utensil.

    So I’m thinking catching lizards at night has something to do with a gang of robbers who, when found walking main street at midnight, gave the excuse they “was just out catching lizards.” Question is, did the banks ever find the stolen money? Or is it still hidden with the lizards? If so, did more people in town start breaking that law trying to find it? Suddenly a whole town stuck in a jail hunting lizard money…

    Excuse me. I need to go write a story. 😉 (Thanks for always getting our creative juices flowing.)

    1. I’d never heard that spin on the blue laws’ origin before–created to catch criminals. Interesting! And I love your take on the lizard hunting. I hope you got a chance to go finish your story!

  2. These are always fun laws to speculate on. Once again I love your students’ creativity!
    Thanks for sharing this little bit of goofiness from our history
    (although I bet in some areas of the country right now, barbers who tried giving shaves on Main Street
    during quarantine found themselves in a pickle with the law!)

    1. So true! In the future, there will be a whole new body of “Blue Laws” created from this pandemic. In 100 years, somebody will randomly hear (out of context) about store owners that once required customers to wear masks back in the day, and he’ll wonder what in the world that was all about!

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