I was in Elko on business one fine September day and decided to step out for some fresh air and sample some of the local tacos. I was ambling in a leisurely way down Sagecrest Drive on my way to Denny’s when all of a sudden a police cruiser pulled up, lights flashing like a portable disco. My heart began beating like a sledgehammer as two cops built like Brahman bulls climbed out and I was unexpectedly and unceremoniously halted and given a Miranda warning.
“Why are you arresting me?’ I asked curiously as they bundled me into the car with the lack of decorum so often shown by the law.
“You’re not wearing a mask,” replied one of the officers, turning his beefy grizzled face to me. “Don’t you know that’s a serious crime?”
“I’m from Beaver Breath, Arizona, I replied, “and we don’t do such weird stuff there.”
This never happened by the way; it’s just a scenario of what could possibly transpire happen should an obscure law be taken literally.
“You can’t walk on the streets of Elko, Nevada without wearing a mask.”
The above is often quoted in lists of stupid laws on statute books throughout the world. People reading this may assume one or more of the following:
– Elko’s residents are generally ugly and masks make them feel more equally so;
– The town is obsessed with fantasy and role playing and think all the residents should emulate Darth Vader, C3PO, Mickey Mouse, the Grim Reaper or Zorro;
– The residents are all outlaws wanted by the FBI and don’t want to be recognized;
– They support political correctness and equal rights to the extent that you can’t tell from looking on the street who’s male or female, black or white, etc;
– The lawmakers of the town have nothing to do so often amuse themselves by passing needless legislation for fun.
They would all be wrong. The simple unvarnished truth is that the law dates from 1918 – close on a century ago.
Nevada had the smallest population of all states at the time and the people were slow to respond to health issues. The Great Flu epidemic was in full swing and was affecting most of the world. My own grandmother was a little girl and used to help her mother go on visits to the sick people, suitably armed with garlic and camphor sachets to ward off any unwanted attention from the wicked little viruses.
Faced with a worldwide epidemic and an unwilling population the lawmakers of Elko passed a law making it mandatory to wear a medical mask when out in public. The idea was that when you left the safety of your home you didn’t end up getting sneezed on by the local stationmaster and land up on your death bed.
Maybe you were free to walk around with no clothes on, as long as you wore the mandatory mask.
They never seem to have found the time to repeal the law. Naturally no one enforces it since there are no known epidemics around, except possibly testing fever.
Aspies like to investigate things and get the background story behind the weirdness. Most of us just love burrowing deep into rich and aromatic piles of trivia.
Always get your background facts right before making any judgement about anything! The town is not ruled by a bunch of lawmakers wearing tinfoil hats and budgeting for underground bunkers and anti-fluoride devices. It’s not the home of a bunch of fantasy fanatics who want to make the town into the next Star Wars universe or Disneyland. They don’t need to as there is plenty to do in Elko, even if it’s just touring abandoned gold mining camps.
The attractive small city of Elko was established when the Central Pacific Railroad was expanded in 1868.
Today it is a modern, prosperous progressive community. The local economy is mostly based on gold mining, and its fortunes follow the roller coaster vagaries of gold demand. It attracts many tourists and ranching also brings money to the city. The arid surroundings wouldn’t appeal to everyone but there are some very attractive wilderness areas in the nearby mountain ranges for the more energetic visitors to add to their touring programme.
There are a number of casinos and the Commercial Casino is home to a 3 metre (10-foot) stuffed polar bear. He’s known as the White King. No, they don’t have a matching stuffed grizzly bear called the Black King, which would be quite effective, especially if they hosted any chess championships.
Hunter S. Thompson, famous for the infamous Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas had a “soft” spot for the city and used it in a short story titled Fear and Loathing in Elko. The town has been featured in a number of books, films and TV shows – not always in a positive light! It’s the setting for a movie bearing the town’s name in which a disturbed young woman places an ad requesting someone to murder her. With publicity like that who needs enemies?
The National Cowboy Poetry Gathering is held in January each year to celebrate the good stuff about rural lie in the Midwest. In July it is the turn of the annual Basque Festival to take centre stage.
There are several geothermal hot springs in the area, which are not likely to cool you down on a hot summer’s day but may relieve your muscular aches.
Take care when making spurious assumptions about odd-sounding legislation! Usually there’s some quite innocent explanation.