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Skating On The Wrong Side Of The Law

Over the course of history, many skaters have almost found themselves on the wrong side of the law. Insert bad Tonya Harding joke here. However, we're not talking Tonya today. Instead, we'll be exploring some of the rather unusual laws and rules surrounding ice skating that have cropped up over the years and believe me, they range from the reasonable to the ridiculous.

On the more reasonable side of the scale are rules that have come into play with regard to concern to the ice itself. Aside from the obvious 'SKATING PROHIBITED' signs posted by lakes and ponds where ice thickness has posed a safety risk to skaters, there have been rules put into place with regard to the contamination of ice. The December 22, 1906 issue of The Farmer noted that in Fairfield, Connecticut, "Bunnell's Pond, at Beardsley Park, is covered with heavy ice, but skating is prohibited by the Bridgeport Hyadraulie Co., the water being of the city's system of reservoirs." This concern over contamination was not uncommon and was often linked to concerns about 'cutting ice' for food refrigeration, hospital use and consumption. One example evidencing actual legislation regarding this concern was recorded in the January 27, 1909 issue of the Norwich Bulletin: "At the request of Dexter L. Bishop of Meriden and other leading ice dealers of the state, representative Wilbur F. Parker has introduced a bill in the legislature prohibiting the pollution of ice, or water on ponds or lakes from which ice is cut. The bill was referred to the committee on public health and safety. Mr. Bishop explained the necessity of the proposed measure, which is a matter that most persons thought was already covered by the statutes. The ice men have looked into the question and find, they say, that there is no law governing tile contamination of ice although the pollution of water is well taken care of in the law book. Mr. Bishop says that when ice is forming it drives out all polluting substances, so that the danger comes from foreign matter on the surface and it is therefore, imperative that the top of the ice be kept clean. Consequently ice which is to be cut should not be used by skaters, the icemen say. Some ponds cannot be skated upon but others are open to the public and the dealers want the skating surface to be confined to those parts which are not intended for cutting. 'Action is very necessary,' Mr. Bishop stated, 'because ice is coming into more general use in sick rooms and much ice water is drunk in summer.'"

Other bans on skating were based on location. In 1981, they had a problem with people skating on a frozen water fountain in Reading, Pennsylvania and three years earlier in Nashua, New Hampshire they even had problems with people skating in a graveyard! The February 6, 1978 issue of The Telegraph noted that "skating around monuments in Woodlawn Cemetery is out. A cemetery spokesman said youngsters are sometimes allowed to skate on pockets of ice which form on an unused back portion of the Kinsley Street cemetery and the arrangement has work out well. But skating in the section of the cemetery used for burial is prohibited. Youths seen skating around monuments last Saturday morning must have strayed from the back side of the cemetery, the spokesman said, and they went unseen by the cemetery attendant who was working in the greenhouse." Kids these days! Although ice skating down sidewalks in Moscow or Amsterdam was not an uncommon sight, some American cities actually passed city ordinances banning the practice.

Tipping the scale from reasonable to ridiculous are some arcane laws that were downright sexist in nature. Lynn Copley-Graves wonderful book "Figure Skating History: The Evolution Of Dance On The Ice" recalled that over the years, "rules cropped up in the United States governing interaction with women on the ice. Headland, Alabama law prohibited men from 'turning and looking at a woman that way' while ice skating. When caught a second time for the infraction, the looker had to wear 'horse blinders' for 24 hours. In Newburgh, New York, no married woman could skate on the Sabbath unless 'properly looked after' by her mate who followed twenty paces behind carrying a loaded 'musket over his left shoulder'. La Follette, Tennessee law specified, 'no man could place his arm around his woman' at a dance or in a skating rink 'without a good and lawful reason.'"

As insane as those last three were, this last one had me cackling even more. The Thursday, December 18, 1919 issue of The Washington Times noted that in Washington, D.C., "at the Zoo all but five hundred square feet of the pond is covered with ice an inch thick. The rest is not frozen and the ducks are still having a merry time. Superintendent Hollister says the skating cannot begin until the ducks are out, and the ducks won't come out until it's completely frozen. Then again Superintendent Hollister said he would take the ducks out of the pond if it wasn't for the fact that every time they try to catch a duck, he dives under the ice and disappears." It sounds like something out of a sitcom episode, doesn't it?

I guess the moral of the story is that as ridiculous as many of the rules governing the judging of the sport today may indeed be, the ISU aren't the only ones who have had a knack for coming up with some pretty crazy rules surrounding ice skating over the years. Now, if you'll excuse me, I've got some ducks to deal with!

Skate Guard is a blog dedicated to preserving the rich, colourful and fascinating history of figure skating. Over ten years, the blog has featured over a thousand free articles covering all aspects of the sport's history, as well as four compelling in-depth features. To read the latest articles, follow the blog on FacebookTwitterPinterest and YouTube. If you enjoy Skate Guard, please show your support for this archive by ordering a copy of the figure skating reference books "The Almanac of Canadian Figure Skating", "Technical Merit: A History of Figure Skating Jumps" and "A Bibliography of Figure Skating":