Dyeing a sparrow and calling it a parakeet. Abandoning your hoop skirt. In some Michigan communities, odd laws like these are still on the books.
KALAMAZOO, Mich.—If you’ve got a gal in Kalamazoo, think twice before singing the 1942 Glenn Miller chart-topper to her.
Like most weird laws, the idea that you can’t serenade a love interest in Kalamazoo has nearly crossed into urban legend status, due both to a lack of enforcing old, outdated laws that just have never been removed from the records and just how fascinating these peeks into the often unwieldy world of legalese can be.
In the case of the Kalamazoo serenade, there’s some debate as to whether or not the law exists at all. It may be a fun way of explaining the Kalamazoo ordinances about how “singing or playing of instruments in such a manner as to cause interference with the free passage of persons” is illegal in the city. Certainly, a stirring rendition of a love ballad would cause some interference on the sidewalks and streets of the college town.
So much for 1980’s style romance.
But what other weird laws does Michigan have, and what’s the story behind them?
This one’s fascinating. There was a ten-cent bounty for the heads of rats as a result of Public Act 50 of 1915 that was repealed in 2001, but interestingly St. Clair Shores looked at bringing it back.
In the early 2000s, efforts were pursued in Lansing to clean up a lot of the state’s older odd laws that had long ago outlived their usefulness.
As illustrated by St. Clair Shores, that doesn’t always mean the reason the law existed is gone, just that a new era means new and better ways to solve the same problem. In the case of St. Clair Shores, that means a rodent abatement program rather than freelance rat hunters.
That Better Be a Real Parakeet
A local law in Harper Woods, Section 4-404, makes it illegal to paint, spray, dye, or otherwise color a bird and sell it as if it was another species of bird. This got famous as the law that makes it illegal to paint a sparrow and sell it as a parakeet.
Actually, it’s a part of Michigan law as well. Under Michigan criminal law, you can’t sell an artificially colored animal. Now, who in Harper Woods tried to corner the parakeet market and put this law on everyone’s radar is another question.
Don’t Decompress Your Dog
You can’t kill a dog with a high-altitude decompression chamber, per the Dog Law Act of 1919.
This one is still on the books, and is one of those laws that clearly has a story behind it, but that story seems to be lost to time. At the very least, we know around when the story must’ve happened, as decompression chambers were only invented three years earlier, in 1916.
Whatever inspired this law, the idea behind it is horrifying, as decompression is a pretty nightmare-fueling way to go.
Ride the Sober Rails
You can’t be drunk on a train, per the aptly named Drunkenness on Trains or Interurban Cars Act of 1913, and this one is still on the books in Michigan.
Unlike the doggy decompression, it’s pretty easy to imagine why this law came about. Though in 2021, one of the perks of taking the train is having a very capable designated driver. Someone ruined this for us all a century ago, and we’re still living with it.
If the Amtrak had a full-service bar, would you be more likely to take it, ‘Ganders?
Detroiters Have to Respect the Radio
In Detroit, it’s a violation of local laws to willfully destroy your own radio. Doing so can get you five years behind bars! This comes from a law, Sec. 383a, which protects things it deems public utilities, whether privately or publicly owned. Where this law is weird is that it includes your radio.
It makes sense not to allow a gas company to destroy lines it owns without consequences or to prevent people from breaking the water pipelines into their homes. It makes less sense that Lions fans listening to a Thanksgiving game can’t throw their radio across a room.
Don’t Lose Your Skirt
At the tail end of the 19th century, Grand Haven passed a local ordinance that charged $5 for hoops skirts abandoned on the sidewalks of the city. That’s nearly $150 in today’s money!
The Grand Haven Tribune’s archives showed a letter written in 1894 complaining about “the hoop skirts and other rubbish that littered your streets,” and calling for the city to get its act together before all of West Michigan was to visit for Fourth of July festivities. Why Grand Haven decided to single out the hoop skirts is anyone’s guess, but the law appeared on the books shortly thereafter.
As for why all the ladies of 1890s Grand Haven were leaving their skirts on the sidewalks, the Tribune believes it had to do with how notoriously hard it was to dispose of hoop skirts at the time.
The Weird Law in Your Backyard
Every town has some real strange local laws and ordinances on the books. From laws about keeping livestock on Main Street to laws about odd facets of daily life, every town in Michigan and around the nation has something on the books.
Often those are just old laws that aren’t useful anymore, that no one will bother enforcing today. But just to be safe, keep your hoop skirt on in Grand Haven and don’t paint a sparrow you plan to sell.
What are some of the stranger laws in your community, ‘Ganders? Send an email to our Managing Editor Jessica Strachen and let us know!