Massachusetts' Blue Laws: Some Greatest Hits

You might want to think twice next time before you start singing the national anthem—or chasing a flock of pigeons.

boy chasing pigeonsPhoto via Thinkstock

Blue laws tend to be brought up as a sign of residual Puritanical influences in Massachusetts, Connecticut, and other corners of New England. They are sometimes pesky and infuriating, and this time every year, they really get under the skin of Massachusetts merchants, as they feel hobbled by onerous restrictions.

The main issues for merchants here in the Commonwealth is that they cannot open on Thanksgiving, and of course, a Certain Granite-Laden State does allow such openings. Some retail operators in Massachusetts are brought to tears by the line of cars proceeding northbound on I-93 on T-Day, though there hasn’t been much movement to change this current prohibition.

All of this got me thinking about the odd, curious, and downright befuddling blue laws that are still on the books in Massachusetts. There are a number of them that remain a formal part of Massachusetts General Law, and a keyword search revealed a rather fine list of “greatest hits.” Here they are for your formal consideration, amusement, and edification.

1. Oh Say Can You Please Finish The Star-Spangled Banner? Thanks!

Tucked within the Massachusetts General Law code is this gentle reminder that you had better finish your entire performance of The Star-Spangled Banner, or you might be coughing $100. The law does not address whether you have to perform any particular rendition, as there is the celebrated Civil War remix that is often forgotten. We definitely should forget this version here in Boston, as the additional stanza was penned by that Most Proper Bostonian, Oliver Wendell Holmes, Sr.

The law is silent on whether or not this caustic rendition by Roseanne Barr would pass muster.

2. Get Your Ass (Mule) Off the Second Floor

It’s important to regulate barnyard animals, as they are wont to go truly wild. Boston’s city leaders shooed the cows off Boston Common in 1830, and many cities in Massachusetts have very strict laws governing the housing of cattle, pigs, and the like within their boundaries. This particular gem of a law states that “no person shall stable a horse or mule on the second or any higher floor of any building” and so on. Perhaps the most interesting wrinkle is that the last line of the law notes “This section shall not apply to cities.” I am hoping that this means that all of the donkeys I am secretly stabling on the 35th floor of the Prudential in a broom closet are exempt.

3. Don’t Scare the Pigeons

I have personally never been moved to frighten a pigeon, which is for the best, as it is forbidden by state law. Specifically, the law reads: “Whoever wilfully kills pigeons upon, or frightens them from, beds which have been made for the purpose of taking them in nets”, etc. Of course, I also haven’t been near a pigeon bed in years, and I don’t have any idea where to find one. Maybe out on the Cape? Route 1 in Saugus? The slopes of Mt. Greylock?

4. Communists Can’t Rent Out The TD Garden (or any other auditorium)

You may not know this, but Communists are a subversive organization, as per Section 16A in Chapter 264 (“Crimes Against Government”) as detailed by the Massachusetts General Laws. Oh, and also: it’s against the law to rent out “an auditorium, hall or other building” to subversive organizations. So, Communists are basically out of luck. I suppose they can find plenty of room at an Odd Fellows Hall in Nashua.