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Kooky Laws from Covington's Past

During a recent meeting of the Covington City Commission, City Solicitor and Assistant City Manager Frank Warnock said that his office had made some interesting discoveries while packing up for City Hall's big move across the street.

Box after box and folder after folder included some intriguing bits of Covington's legal past and Warnock, as well as his staff and City Clerk Maggie Nyhan were kind enough to share some highlights with The River City News and its readers.

Take a look:

Don't keep a disorderly house!

The Covington City Commission passed an ordinance in September 1931 that barred citizens from keeping a "disorderly house".

For those of you who get a little messy from time to time, you would have been OK.

According to the ordinance, a disorderly house is defined as a house that is used and operated for gatherings for any unlawful purposes.

Violations could have led to a fine as high as $100 and fifty days in jail.

It was signed into law by Mayor Thomas Donnelly.

Like pets? You can only have dogs and cats

An ordinance from February 1964 prevented the people of Covington from legally harboring any animals other than dogs or cats.

"The harboring and keeping of animals, livestock, poultry, and reptiles, except dogs and cats, which are commonly considered domesticated pets, presents a danger to children, as well as adults, and disturbs the public peace and tranquility," the ordinance read.

Violations could have landed you a $100 fine and thirty days in jail.

Moral support for Vietnam War criminal

In April 1971, the Covington City Commission considered a resolution offering moral support to US Army Lt. William Calley who was found guilty for his role in the My Lai Massacre of 1968.

"That the Mayor and Board of Commissioners of the City of Covington, Kentucky, hereby give their moral support to Lt. William Calley, and urge that all appropriate legal redress be granted Lt. Calley under the laws of the United States of America. A copy of this resolution to be transmitted to all members of Congress from Kentucky."

Hundreds of unarmed civilians, including many women and children, were brutally killed in the My Lai Massacre. Calley was found guilty on March 29, 1971 and sentenced to life imprisonment. This resolution was introduced in Covington on April 1, 1971, a day after Calley's sentencing. A note in the margin of the record indicates that the commission passed it that day but then on April 8, tabled it. A third note reads, "NP", which could be someone's initials or stand for "not passed".

One-piece bathing suits are a threat to our morality!

Ladies, your breasts should remain fully covered at all times in the summer, according to Covington leaders in 1964.

In June of that year, somebody at City Hall got the vapors and penned the following ordinance:


"Whereas, the Judeo-Christian concept of morality and common decency and propriety demands the protection of the sanctity of the family and the youth of our community, and whereas, the moral fiber of the community would be in danger by the sale and wearing of such immoral clothing, and whereas, the community would be endangered by such perversive influence such as to damage the basis and the very concept of Christian morality of our children..." blah... blah... blah...

Can you imagine what these city leaders would think if they stumbled into the Madison Ave Kroger today and saw some of the wardrobe choices?

The ordinance was approved and violators faced a fine of no less than $100 and no more than $500 and possibly thirty days in jail.

Of course, this ordinance specifically referenced women. Could men get in trouble for wearing a ladies' swimsuit? 

The next law should answer that for you.

Four men arrested for dressing in drag

Four men violated Covington city ordinance 14-156-B and were taken into custody for it.

There was no copy of that ordinance immediately available but a police report from just after midnight on May 10, 1978 reads:

"At the above time and date, while on routine patrol, reporting Officers observed two male black subjects dressed as female subjects walking on the street at Robbins & Madison. Obtained identification from both subjects which indicated that they were in fact male subjects and at that time placed them under arrest for violation of city ordinance 14-156-B. While transporting these two subjects back to headquarters, observed two additional subjects walking at 5th & Madison. Identification also revealed that they too were male black subjects in the apparel and guise of females."

All four were arrested and placed in jail. The men were 18, 19, 22, and 25.

No one in the legal office could quickly find what the ordinance was.

There shall be no fortune-telling in Covington!

Covington City Hall was not only opposed to boobs and dudes in dresses, it was also having none of the witchcraft, either!

In December 1925, Mayor Daniel A. O'Donovan signed into law an ordinance prohibiting the practice of palmistry, clairvoyancy, fortune telling, and phrenology.

"Any person found guilty before the Police Court of a violation of the provisions of this ordinance shall be fined in any sum not less than ten dollars nor more than one hundred dollars, and the costs of prosecution," the resolution read.

This sort of sorcery was less frowned upon in Northern Kentucky's largest city when the issue was revisited in 1940.

Fortune tellers, clairvoyants, phrenologists, palmists, mediums, and astrologists were permitted to operate in the city as long as they paid an annual license tax of $400 or $20 per day. That's 1940 money. Today, that would amount to more than $6,600 annually or $333 a day.

A few years later, the City stuck it to the industry again, raising the annual license tax to $500 ($8,000 in 2013) or $25 ($400 in 2013) a day.

Behavior at City Hall

Former Covington Mayor George Wermeling (1976-1980) issued a call for better behavior during city commission meetings while he was still a city commissioner.

A press release sent from Wermeling's office presented the issue as a guide to foster the highest degree of professionalism in Covington officials.

"It must be embedded in the mind of a Covington official that he represents the 3rd largest city in the Commonwealth of Kentucky, the number Two Metropolitan Area and Northern Kentucky's leading City," Wermeling wrote.

He called for no commissioner to leave his station during an official meeting "unless he first excuses himself"; that commissioners shall avoid engaging in personal conversations with each other during official meetings; that no commissioner shall consume any food or beverage except water that may be placed on his desk; that no commissioner shall curse, use vulgarity or any slang that may be interpreted to be disrespectful to his colleagues, or any member of the audience at official meetings or caucus.

Wermeling asked that each commissioner police the others and to present charges upon violations.

And if you were a man dressed in a one-piece ladies' bathing suit while reading someone's palm next your pet cow, May God Have Mercy On Your Soul!

Written by Michael Monks, editor & publisher of The River City News

Photo: Covington Codes of Ordinance from the 19th Century