So, What’s the Point?


In the comments, “Beach Bum” points us to an article from 1984 in the Eugene, OR Register-Guard, in which Cape May, NJ was starting to crack down on their ordinance requiring shoes on their Boardwalk after 7 p.m.

That article is in the August 16, 1984 Eugene Register-Guard (Oregon), “Baring feet against the law in this town”.

Google’s “Related articles” link provides a slightly longer version of the story from the Palm Beach Post (Florida), “Barefoot in the Dark”. Here’s what the Palm Beach article says:

CAPE MAY, N.J. (AP) — If you thought Palm Beach made things tough by forbidding joggers from running topless through town, just listen to this.

In Cape May, a Victorian relic by the sea, few people would ever think of walking or jogging while wearing shoes. Bottomless, at least where feet are concerned, is the only way to go. But now those feet had better be clad in “proper footwear” after 7 p.m. on the boardwalk and promenade.

It’s the law, and enforcement is being stepped up.

“That’s what summer is for, walking barefoot,” protested 13-year-old Tara Sherretta of Cape May as she and two friends walked along the promenade without shoes.

Older residents and merchants selling sandals seem to be taking the issue in stride. But most of them agree with youngsters that the 13-year-old ordinance runs counter to the resort spirit.

“The kids are scared to death they’re going to get locked up or something,” said gift shop cashier Hannah Lemmon, pointing to empty bins that once contained sandals.

The concern in this town of charming homes, inss and ubiquitous wicker furniture stems from a $125 fine that Municipal Judge Martin Way handed out last week for the first summons issued under the city’s barefoot law.

Police Chief Harry Stotz said he instructed his 24 officers to strictly enforce the law this summer.

He said the increased enforcement is not a result of lingering Victorian prudishness, but rather the fear of lawsuits against the city if someone strolling in the dark was injured by a piece of glass, burning cigarette or a splinter from the boardwalk.

At dusk Tuesday, a barefoot Caroline Agnelli, 17, of East Hartford, Conn., ducked behind a passer-by so two police officers making their rounds couldn’t see she was barefoot.

“You can go into any place here barefoot. But you can’t walk on the boardwalk. That’s really weird, especially at a beach town,” said Miss Agnelli as she strolled the promenade, a 12-foot-wide strip of asphalt parallel to the beach. The boardwalk is two wooden structures that just like piers off the promenade and toward the water.

A hearing on the only other summons ever issued for such a violation was postponed yesterday for one week after the defendant said he could not make the court date.

The law says people on public streets and in public places after 7 p.m. must wear “usual dress” rather than bathing suits. It adds: “With reference to the boardwalk and promenade, usual dress includes proper footwear.”

One interesting part of the story is the reference to the Palm Beach ordinance making it illegal to be in town without wearing a shirt. This ordinance was finally declared unconstitutional, in 1987, in DeWeese v. Palm Beach.

Another interesting part is the excuse that the Police Chief uses. As usual, it’s just a mass of ignorance and contradictions. In New Jersey in the summertime, the sun doesn’t set until 8:30 p.m., so the reference to the dark “after 7 p.m.” makes is horribly over-inclusive. But the reference to “proper footwear” makes it quite clear: it is merely a dress code. Besides, I’ve never seen a city being sued by a barefoot person because they stepped on a cigarette butt in the dark. That’s just excuse-making.

In fact, here is the whole ordinance, found at the website of the City of Cape May:

§373-31. Bathing suits prohibited during certain hours.

No person, either male or female, shall be attired in a bathing suit, trunks or other than usual dress on any public street or in any public place, after 7:00 p.m. and prior to 7:00 a.m. With reference to the boardwalk or promenade, usual dress includes appropriate footwear.

Again, it is clear that it is only a dress code, imposed by an arm of the state, against its citizens. I doubt it would hold up in court, but it appears that nobody has challenged it.


One Response to “So, What’s the Point?”

  1. Beach Bum Says:

    Yes, I agree. It’s just a dress code. It’s about that phony, outdated 1940s and 1950s ‘decorum’ and superficial appearance. No different than your library lawsuit with the phonier-than-a-three-dollar-bill Supreme Court, (sorry, ‘supreme’, since they are far from such). I saw a list of library rules in one Florida county – the first rule read something like this:
    “Patrons will be asked to leave if they are insufficiently dressed, including shirts and shoes”
    “Insufficiently dressed”? That’s a new one. Once again, the government discriminating on superficial appearance. Not a private organization, but the US government. Which makes it that much worse.
    And certainly, the Youngstown case was ALL about looks. Notice how they thought it was arbitrarily ok for kids up to age 6 to go barefoot. What did they do, ask barefoot kids if they turned 7 yet, then reprimand their parents? That idea certainly goes back to the first half of the 20th century thinking, where it was perfectly acceptable for kids to go barefoot, but not adults. It was a kid thing, and when you grew up, you wore shoes and nice clothes in public. Possibly another reason why the hippies so unnerved them – adults behaving and dressing more like kids.

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