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Pic of the Week–Trouble in River City

Photo of the 1919 edition of the Iowa Code. Photo by Donna Sokol

My family is very fond of the movie The Music Man. It has almost everything one would want from a classic musical: a roguish, if somewhat over the hill, male lead who finds his own innate goodness; a smart and beautiful young woman who helps to redeem him; a wise mother; a helpful sidekick; several stock characters providing light relief; a comic villain; and show-stopping musical numbers. We’ve watched the movie more times than I can remember and speculated on what we call “maybe they will,” scenarios for the residents of River City, Iowa, after the action ends.

One of the legal issues examined in the movie concerns the need for a traveling salesman  to avoid run-ins with local law enforcement in multiple jurisdictions.  Another theme is how local authorities might identify and catch confidence men who are peddling the latest version of “snake oil.”

First part of Section 8867 of the Iowa Code of 1919. Scan by the author.

One law that appears very early in the movie is when the train that Harold Hill is riding enters Iowa.  At that point the conductor announces that “cigarettes illegal in this state,” and removes a cigarette from the hand of one of the passengers.  I figured that was just part of the script but the movie is partially correct.

At the time the movie is set, sometime shortly before World War I, Iowa did indeed ban the sale of cigarettes. Title 33, Chapter 47 of the Iowa Code of 1913 governed the sale and possession of tobacco products in the state. Section 8867 specifically prohibits the sale of cigarettes and papers used to make cigarettes. This provision was adopted in 1896.

One interesting feature of this publication is the use of a pasted “note-up” in the left margin to indicate that this particular section was repealed during the 39th General Assembly (1921). Today such updating would be done through a pocket part or supplement.

Remainder of Section 8867 of the Iowa Code of 1919. Scan by the author.

Oh, and what happened to Harold Hill after the end of the movie? I like to think he married Marian, became Winthrop’s guardian and finally learned “the territory.” After the end of WWI he became vice-president of marketing for a major Chicago-based corporation. Who would be a better supervisor of sales than a man who could sell an entire town on the idea of a marching band? “Maybe they will.”

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