It is so much fun to look back on certain laws and town ordinances of the past. They always make me wonder about the backstory behind them. I can't imagine for a minute what led Mattapoisett's Board of Selectman to publish this heavy-handed town ordinance back in the year 1957, but I do know that they weren't playing around.

There must have been a rash of holly thieves and these guys weren't having it for a second.

This warning from the town was printed in Presto Press. This was the equivalent to what is now the Wanderer.

Internet Archives Presto Press 1957
Internet Archives Presto Press 1957

I'm all for discouraging trespassing, but six months in prison for taking some holly branches seems a little heavy handed to me.

Also, adjusting for inflation with this inflation calculator shows that the $500 in 1957 was equivalent to a roughly $5,000 fine in 2022. That would be enough to scare anyone away from trying to cut down a Christmas tree on someone else's land. I'd want no part of that. No, thank you.

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Here's the part that is most surprising. I browsed through the Massachusetts General Laws, and not only is the law still in effect, it is statewide. It also now includes many other items besides holly and evergreens.

Chapter 266, Section 113 of current Massachusetts General Law states:

Whoever willfully cuts down or destroys timber or wood standing or growing on the land of another, or carries away any kind of timber or wood cut down or lying on such land, or digs up or carries away stone, ore, gravel, clay, sand, turf or mould from such land, or roots, nuts, berries, grapes or fruit of any kind or any plant there being, or cuts down or carries away sedge, grass, hay or any kind of corn, standing, growing or being on such land, or cuts or takes therefrom any ferns, flowers or shrubs, or carries away from a wharf or landing place any goods in which he has no interest or property, without the license of the owner thereof, shall be punished by imprisonment for not more than six months or by a fine of not more than five hundred dollars; and if the offence is committed on Sunday, or in disguise, or secretly in the night time, the imprisonment shall not be for less than five days nor the fine less than five dollars.

It looks like the law mainly prevents the theft of firewood and fruit (and arguably seafood). While the threatened imprisonment time has not been cut down from a maximum sentence of six months, the fine has remained at the bargain price of $500 for more than 65 years. Remarkably, it has not been adjusted for inflation.

Whatever you do, if you take away one lesson from this, don't try to steal anyone's firewood on a Sunday night in Massachusetts while wearing a disguise. That means big trouble.

LOOK: What major laws were passed the year you were born?

Data for this list was acquired from trusted online sources and news outlets. Read on to discover what major law was passed the year you were born and learn its name, the vote count (where relevant), and its impact and significance.

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