Some things are still the same 117 years later

Published 5:18 pm Tuesday, December 8, 2020

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None of us know how things were in 1903. I’m glad we have written records to educate us.

I was reading through the Historic Port of Washington Project’s latest newsletter recently and found a partial list of town ordinances that ranged from interesting to downright amusing.

I love the way people wrote and spoke back then. It was much more formal than what we write and say now, which tempts folks to poke a little fun. Okay, just me.

For instance: No person shall ride or drive a horse or other animal or vehicle on any street faster than the rate of eight miles an hour, nor break any horse or other animal in any street. For each offense, the person convicted shall pay a fine of five dollars.

Google tells me $5 then equals $125 today, which is a legit fine for a speeding ticket these days, not that I would know firsthand.

I am curious to know how town officials decided eight miles an hour was too fast. Seems pretty fast to me, considering my pace over one mile. Did the town constable lay in wait for an out of control horse and buggy to come tearing down Main Street, then pull him over on horseback? Maybe that’s where the idea of Roscoe P. Coltrane chasing the Duke boys came from.

Back in 1903 it was unlawful for any person to throw or place any grapes, grape skins, orange or banana peels on the town sidewalks. Violators were guilty of a misdemeanor and subject to a $10 fine or 10 days imprisonment.

Ernest T. Bass would have spent many more days in Sheriff Taylor’s jail if this law was on the books in Mayberry, given his penchant for throwing rocks and rotten fruit.

I haven’t seen any grape skins on Main Street since it’s been redone. Come to think of it, no banana peels before either. $250 in today’s money would be a steep price to pay and 10 days in jail seems downright harsh. Wonder how many violators they had? The bigger question is who takes time to peel a grape?

The third one is still enforceable today according to the HPOW. No person or persons shall be allowed to use the town sidewalks for bicycle riding. The use of said sidewalks as above specified shall subject the offender to a fine of $5 for each offense.

Skateboards weren’t invented yet, but the current law should be amended to include them. I haven’t noticed any bikes on the sidewalks, but I see riders going the wrong way on one way streets all the time, sometimes headed toward traffic. I’m also tired of seeing wrong way drivers, but I digress. It would be nice to see this ordinance amended and enforced.

Finally, here’s one that has affected neighborhoods since before 1903 and will continue to do so long after we are gone.

The 1903 town ordinance says any person who shall be found guilty of loud hallooing or screaming, or making any loud or extravagant noise, except in case of fire, in the town during the day or night shall be fined $3, or $90 in today’s dollars.

Imagine how much quieter our city would be if that law was still on the books. Hallooing and screaming don’t happen often, but there’s plenty of the loud, extravagant noise of the off-hour construction and unmuffled truck variety. I guess my neighbor was right when he said it’s a small price to pay to live in paradise.