Underhill, Kevin. The Emergency
Sasquatch Ordinance: And Other Real Laws that Human Beings Have Actually Dreamed
Up, Enacted, and Sometimes Even Enforced. ABA Publishing, 334 pages. $22.95
few times a year, patrons will call the reference desk at my library and ask if
Maine has any silly or wacky or funny laws. The staff of the Maine State Law
and Legislative Reference Library is loath to call any work of the Maine
Legislature wacky, which makes this a
particularly difficult question to answer. It was with much anticipation that I
received my copy of The Emergency
Sasquatch Ordinance by Kevin Underhill, a book I hoped could be a reference
for my patrons in search of wacky or silly or funny laws. Also, I was generally
excited about any book about law with a cryptid on the cover.
of immediately searching the index for Maine laws, I decided to start at the
beginning and read the chapters in order. The book, written by Kevin Underhill
of the legal humor website loweringthebar.net, starts with an introduction and
disclaimer and proceeds by devoting a chapter each to various laws, starting
with ancient Sumer and ancient Babylon; proceeding through pre-modern times; then examining United States federal, state,
and municipal laws; and concluding with modern laws outside the United States.
The book ends with a bibliography section, an acknowledgement section, and endnotes.
There is no index.
chapter provides the text of a law, some humorous discussion of the text, and a
citation to the law. Underhill is most successful when he gives context to the plain
text of the laws and makes what appears to be a wacky law more understandable
and more accessible to modern readers and/or those who aren’t legally trained.
For example, he provides context about the historical value of a shekel from
the Code of Hammurabi (p.11). Also, sometimes the laws he chooses to highlight,
such as a law about trees and neighbors from the Code of Justinian (p.27), show
that some of the legal struggles we have today are not far from those of
ancient times. In addition to the text, there are a few images of the primary
source documents or photographs of objects mentioned in the laws, which help
bring the subject matter to life.
the text is accessible and well researched, it falters at times because it is
blatantly trying too hard to be funny. The true humor of the book is in the
laws themselves, and at times the author’s commentary detracts, not adds, to
the occasional groaning and eye-rolling, I am in awe of some of the research in
the book. For example, according to the text, three states have official state
neckwear (p.86). I appreciate that someone, the author or his researcher or a law
librarian, compiled a 50-state survey of official state neckwear!
the endnotes provide guidance on how to find the cited laws and provide a trove
of legal ephemera, the author fails to provide footnotes to matters he asserts
in several chapters, which would have provided additional information for
readers. For example, in the chapter about Oregon designating an official state
microbe (pp. 207-8), there is discussion of two other states considering this
issue, but there is no further citation to substantiate this claim.
for my patrons, the book did not mention any wacky Maine state laws. However,
public law librarians in many other states will be thrilled with this
collection. Overall, I would recommend this book for public law libraries,
legal humor collections, or a gift to the lawyer in your life who appreciates
the zaniness of law, legal history, or legal humor.
© Nicole P. Dyszlewski, 2014. Senior Law
Librarian, Maine State Law and Legislative Reference Library, Augusta, ME. firstname.lastname@example.org