The Spirit of the Law

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In the spirit of the Halloween season, Harris County Law Library is exhibiting several spooky selections from our print collection. The sources we uncovered will be on display through the end of the month. Don't miss your chance to see them before they vanish! The following featured items are included in the exhibit. 

Burchill v. Hermsmeyer, 212 SW 767 (1919), is the case of the ghost who inspired a contract dispute and a fraud claim. Mr. Hermsmeyer sued to recover the $10,000 he invested in Mrs. Burchill's corporation. She claimed that ghosts, with whom she consulted via a medium, told her there was oil under her land. When no oil was discovered, Mr. Hermsmeyer argued that Ms. Burchill's claim was a fraudulent misrepresentation of facts. The court rejected his argument saying that the existence of ghosts is a matter of belief, not of fact. His claim was, therefore, "insufficient to form a basis for relief for the plaintiff."

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Purtell v. Mason, 527 F.3d 615 (2008), involves Halloween yard decorations which caused a neighborhood dispute and raised questions about the right to insult every person on your block. Jeffrey and Vicki Purtell displayed six wooden tombstones in front of their Chicago home, each bearing unflattering references to their neighbors and the details of each person's fictitious demise. One of the neighbors identified on the tombstones argued with Mr. Purtell over the offensive decorations resulting in a call to the police. Officer Bruce Mason arrived at the scene. He arrested Mr. Purtell and ordered the removal of the tombstones. The Purtells asserted their free speech rights, but the Seventh Circuit found no loss of First Amendment Protection under the "fighting words" doctrine. 


The Law of Cadavers and of Burial and Burial Places by Percival E. Jackson is the "standard work on the subject of the law pertaining to the care and disposal of bodies of deceased human beings, and the establishment and maintenance of burial places." Included in this volume is a thorough treatment of the law regarding sepulture along with "approximately a hundred pages of forms pertaining to the regulation of cemeteries, the transfer of plots, graves, and monuments therein and the care, transportation, and burial of human corpses as well as some forms of legal proceedings in both tort and contract, germane to the general subject." (Book Review by Charles G. Coster, 2014) This title, 2nd edition, is available in the Harris County Law Library's print collection and also via HeinOnline's Legal Classics Library, which you can access at the Law Library.

In the early 1900s, three creative thinkers designed new and improved lanterns in the category of "decorative and grotesque illuminating devices commonly called jackolanterns." (Andrew B. Heard, Patent No. 715,379) Their patent drawings are featured in the exhibit and shown in in the graphics throughout this post.

To see the rest of the Halloween-themed legal materials on display, visit the Law Library before November 1st. Happy haunting!