Looking around Chicago today, you won’t find many stink balls or cannons — but did you know the city has ordinances regulating both? When these laws were first passed more than a century ago, aldermen may have believed they posed a real threat. But today, these old laws don’t seem to make a whole lot of sense.
Logan Square resident Ty McCarthy was wondering whether Chicago had any outdated laws on the books. So he asked Curious City: What are some of Chicago’s oldest and weirdest laws?
The city’s oldest laws can be traced back to 1833, when Chicago became a town. Our audio story delves into that history.
To find some weird laws, we pored over Chicago’s municipal code — which anyone can search online — and pinpointed several ordinances that were passed more than 50 years ago.
“You would look at a lot of these laws and think they’re strange or archaic, because they certainly don’t match the Chicago we live in today,” says Joshua Salzmann, a history professor at Northeastern Illinois University. But he says these laws offer interesting glimpses of the issues that concerned Chicagoans in earlier eras.
Dick Simpson, a former alderman who teaches political science at the University of Illinois at Chicago, says the laws we selected are mostly harmless — and rarely, if ever, enforced — but he encourages city officials to clear obsolete laws off the books. “It’s worthwhile to see what really needs to be updated to the 21st century,” he says.
The city’s Law Department did not answer our question about whether these laws should be updated. You can check them out for yourselves below and decide for yourself — still relevant, or obsolete?
After seeing the nine ordinances we selected as peculiar, Ty says he was amused. “I hadn’t heard of faro,” he says about the outlawed card game.
And that law about misusing the city flag’s imagery? “We are currently breaking that law all the time,” he says.
As for whether it’s a serious issue that these old laws remain on the book, Ty says, “It’s benign and kind of fun to look at — as long as they’re still not being enforced.”