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Curious City presents

What Are Some Odd Chicago Laws?

Did you know you can’t perform in a window or dye a baby chick? We feature nine of Chicago’s most obscure laws.

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Logan Square resident Ty McCarthy was wondering whether Chicago had any outdated laws on the books.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?

This is a drawing of a group of men sitting around a table with casino chips and cards on it.
This is a drawing of a cannon being fired on a city block in Chicago.
This is a drawing of someone purchasing a book with the title, “XXX: The First One” on it.
This is a drawing of a clown performing a juggling act in a storefront window.
This is a drawing of a poop-like “stink ball” being thrown at people from “the Bean” in Millennium Park.
This is a drawing of someone falling while trying to disembark a streetcar.
This is a drawing of the Chicago flag with the word, “CHI-TOWN” scribbled on top of it.
This is a drawing of a woman looking up at a movie marquee for “Rain Man.” She’s confused because she thinks it means the movie is actually about a man getting rained on.
This is a drawing of multi-colored bunnies and chicks.
More about our questioner

Ty McCarthy lives in Chicago’s Logan Square neighborhood and works for a real estate firm. His name might sound familiar to Curious City listeners — this is actually the second question from Ty that we’ve answered in just the past few months. In February, we explored another topic he’d asked about: “What Makes Chicago A Destination For Improv?” Clearly, Ty has a knack for asking questions that will be popular in Curious City’s online voting.

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.”

Listen to the audio version of this story

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