September 4, 1920: : Newspaper uncovers fake city ordinance written to mock civic leader

On this day in Duluth in 1920, the Duluth News Tribune reported on the discovery of a fake city ordinance written in 1910 to mock a city alderman. Tracy Holmberg, secretary to City Clerk Fred C. Ash, came across the document by accident among other city records. It was apparently written to mock the efforts of city alderman Alexander G. McKnight, who in January 1910 proposed an ordinance to cut down on vehicle accidents. It read, “Any person driving or operating any motor vehicle, before starting to turn said vehicle around any street corner, shall sound three short sharp blasts upon a whistle or three loud rapid strokes upon a gong.” The ordinance was no-doubt inspired by the fact that the new-fangled “automobile” was becoming popular faster than laws could keep up with, and the loud and mostly unregulated autos were sharing the road with easily-spooked horses. Most people could not afford them and considered them loud and dangerous. McKnight left the common council in March, and in April the measure was voted down. But apparently someone at City Hall thought his idea ridiculous and had a little fun with the ordinance along the way. Here is the complete text of the parody ordinance:

The common council of Duluth do ordain as follows:

That it shall be unlawful for any person to drive or cause to be driven any automobile upon any street, avenue, alley or other public highway within the city of Duluth unless said automobile and its driver observe each and all of the following rules:

1. On discovering an approaching team [of horses pulling a wagon], the motorist must stop and cover his machine with a tarpaulin painted to correspond with the surrounding scenery.

2. The speed limit will be secret and the penalty for violation will be $10 for every mile an offender is caught going in excess of it. [Note: $10 in 1910 is about $260 today]

3. In case a motor car makes a team run away, the penalty shall be $100 for the first mile the team runs, $200 on the second, $300 for the third, and so on.

4. On approaching a corner where he cannot command a view of the road, the motorist must stop at least 100 yards from the turn, toot his horn, ring a bell, fire a revolver, shout “holloo,” and send up three rockets at intervals of five minutes.

5. Motor cars must be seasonally painted so they will merge with the landscape. They shall be green in spring and white in winter.

6. Motor cars running on a country road at night must send up a red rocket every mile, and wait ten minutes for the road to clear, then proceed carefully blowing horns and shooting Roman candles.

7. In case a horse refuses to pass a motor car in spite of all the precautions that have been taken, the motorist will take his machine to pieces as rapidly as possible and conceal the parts in the grass.

8. In case the roads are dusty the owner of a motor car shall slow down to one mile an hour when approaching a house and send a man ahead with a sprinkler to lay the dust.