11 Laws Named After People

Pattanaphong Khuankaew/iStock via Getty Images
Pattanaphong Khuankaew/iStock via Getty Images

Whether it's by writing the law yourself or by falling victim to tragic circumstances that result in a law being created to save others from your fate, it takes a lot for a person to get their name on a piece of legislation. With that in mind, let's take a look at some laws that are named after people and how they got their titles.

1. The Hiss Act

Alger Hiss hit some rough sledding during the late 1940s and 1950s. The civil servant and lawyer had served in positions within the United Nations and the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, but journalist Whittaker Chambers, a former friend, began publicly accusing Hiss of being a Communist. At first Chambers only accused Hiss of being ideologically Communist, but the accusations later included charges that Hiss was involved in Soviet espionage. Hiss eventually served time in prison over the accusations even though there was serious doubt over whether or not he was even a spy.

In 1954, Congress added insult to injury when it passed the so-called Hiss Act, which barred Hiss from receiving his government pension. In 1972, though, Hiss won a small victory when a federal court ruled the Hiss Act was unconstitutional and forced the government to pay Hiss his pension—$61 a month—retroactive to 1966.

2. The Mann Act

This 1910 law was originally known as the White Slave Traffic Act and was designed to curb forced prostitution by making it a crime to transport a woman across state lines for "immoral purposes." The act was named after its author, Republican Congressman James R. Mann. The law is relatively obscure, but it remains on the books. Interestingly, a number of celebrities have run afoul of the vaguely worded act, including Frank Lloyd Wright, Charlie Chaplin, Chuck Berry (who served 20 months in prison for violating it), and boxing champ Jack Johnson.

3. Sonny Bono Copyright Term Extension Act

This 1998 law extended the terms of various copyrights by 20 years. The law, which was championed by Disney when it was concerned about its early Mickey Mouse cartoons entering the public domain, is named after the late Representative Sonny Bono. It was no empty gesture, either; copyright protection was understandably one of the former entertainer's chief legislative goals throughout his congressional career.

4. Kristen's Law

In 1997, 18-year-old Charlotte resident Kristen Modafferi disappeared, but since she was an adult, her family couldn't use any of the nation's kidnapping resources to try to track her down. When it was signed into law in 2000, Kristen's Act created a National Center for Missing Adults.

5. Buster's Law

It takes pretty tragic circumstances for a cat to get a law named after him. In 1997, a young Schenectady, NY, hoodlum named Chester Williamson doused a young cat named Buster with kerosene and before igniting him. The sad story prompted outrage among New York's legislators, who passed Buster's Law in honor of the murdered pet. The new law made animal cruelty a felony within New York.

6. Donda West Law

In October, California's legislature passed the Donda West Bill, which requires patients to undergo a health check and receive written clearance before undergoing any sort of plastic surgery. It's named after the late mother of rapper Kanye West; Donda West died after undergoing a cosmetic procedure in 2007.

7. Tokyo Rose Statutes

These laws forbid foreigners from owning more than 25 percent of any U.S. broadcaster. They're named after the infamous broadcasters of anti-American Japanese propaganda during World War II.

8. Ryan White CARE Act

This 1990 bill brought about sweeping changes to the quality and availability of care for patients with HIV and AIDS. The act, which was named after famous AIDS victim Ryan White, helped establish a "payer of last resort" for patients if they and their families were uninsured or had exhausted all of their resources. President Obama reauthorized the act for an additional four years in October.

9. Lindbergh Law

This 1932 law was passed in the wake of the infamous Lindbergh kidnapping. It makes transporting a kidnapping victim across state lines a federal crime that is punishable by life imprisonment. Furthermore, since the law made it a federal crime to transport victims from state to state, it enabled the FBI and other federal agencies to bring their resources and manpower to kidnapping cases.

10. Brady Handgun Violence Prevention Act

This high-profile piece of gun control legislation was named after former White House Press Secretary James Brady, who was shot and paralyzed by John Hinckley, Jr. during a 1981 assassination attempt on President Reagan. The 1994 law mandated waiting periods for handgun purchases and ordered federal background checks on anyone who attempted to buy a gun.

11. Comstock Act

Anthony Comstock probably wasn't a hit at parties. The 19th century moral reformer was the head of the New York Society for the Suppression of Vice, and was rumored to have bragged to friends about how many "libertines" he had driven to suicide by cracking down on their sins. In 1873, he wrote a law that made it a federal crime to send "obscene, lewd, or lascivious" materials through the mail and convinced Congress to approve the measure.

The ban was pretty sweeping even by 19th-century reform standards. The law not only forbade any sort of mailed information about contraception, it also made contraceptives themselves illegal, an aspect of the law that remained on the books until a 1936 Supreme Court ruling. Moreover, the law nixed any sort of mail discussion of abortion, even for educational purposes. It took until the 1990s for some of the last vestiges of the Comstock Act to come off of state and federal books.

Amazon's Under-the-Radar Coupon Page Features Deals on Home Goods, Electronics, and Groceries

Stock Catalog, Flickr // CC BY 2.0
Stock Catalog, Flickr // CC BY 2.0

This article contains affiliate links to products selected by our editors. Mental Floss may receive a commission for purchases made through these links.

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7 People Killed by Musical Instruments

On occasion, a piano has been a literal instrument of death.
On occasion, a piano has been a literal instrument of death.
Pixabay, Pexels // Public Domain

We’re used to taking it figuratively. One “slays” on guitar, is a “killer” pianist, or wants to “die” listening to a miraculous piece of music. History, though, is surprisingly rich with examples of people actually killed by musical instruments. Some were bludgeoned and some crushed; others were snuffed out by the sheer effort of performing or while an instrument was devilishly played to cover up the crime. Below are seven people who met their end thanks to a musical instrument.

1. Elizabeth Jackson // Struck with a Flute

A German flute.The Crosby Brown Collection of Musical Instruments (1889), Metropolitan Museum of Art // Public Domain

David Mills was practicing his flute the night of March 25, 1751, when he got into a heated argument with fellow servant Elizabeth Jackson. A woman “given to passion,” she threw a candlestick at Mills after he said something rude. He retaliated by striking her left temple with his flute before the porter and the footman pulled them apart. Jackson lived for another four hours, able to walk but not make sensible speech. Her fellow servants decided to bleed her, a sadly ineffective treatment for skull fractures. “Her s[k]ull was remarkably thin,” the surgeon testified at Mills’s trial.

2. Louis Vierne // Exhausted by an Organ Recital

Louis Vierne plays the organ of St.-Nicolas du Chardonnet in Paris, France.Source: gallica.bnf.fr, Bibliothèque nationale de France // Public Domain

Reputed to be the king of instruments, the organ requires a performer with an athletic endurance—more than 67-year-old Louis Vierne had to give during a recital at Notre Dame cathedral on June 2, 1937. He collapsed (likely of a heart attack) after playing the last chord of a piece. With a Gallic appreciation for tragedy, one concertgoer noted the piece “bears a title which, given the circumstance, seems like fate and takes on an oddly disturbing meaning: ‘Tombstone for a dead child’!” As Vierne’s lifeless feet fell upon the pedalboard “a low whimper was heard from the admirable instrument, which seemed to weep for its master,” the concertgoer wrote.

3. James “Jimmy the Beard” Ferrozzo // Crushed by a Piano

The exterior of the Condor Club in 1973.Michael Holley, Wikimedia Commons // Public Domain

Getting crushed by a piano is usually the stuff of cartoons, but what happened to James Ferrozzo is somehow even stranger than a cartoon. “A nude, screaming dancer found trapped under a man’s crushed body on a trick piano pinned against a nightclub ceiling was too drunk to remember how she got there,” the AP reported the day after the 1983 incident. The dancer was a new employee at San Francisco’s Condor Club (said to be one of the first, if not the first, topless bar). The man was her boyfriend, the club’s bouncer. And the trick piano was part of topless-dancing pioneer Carol Doda’s act—a white baby grand that lowered her from the second floor. During Ferrozzo’s assignation with the dancer, the piano’s switch was somehow activated, lifting him partway to heaven before deadly contact with the ceiling sent him the rest of the way.

4. Linos // Killed with a Lyre

A student and his music teacher, holding a lyre—potentially Herakles and Linos.Petit Palais, Wikimedia Commons // CC BY 2.5

One of the greatest music teachers of mythic Ancient Greece, Linos took on Herakles as a pupil. According to the historian Diodorus Siculus, the demi-god “was unable to appreciate what was taught him because of his sluggishness of soul,” and so after a harsh reprimand he flew into a rage and beat Linos to death with his lyre. Herakles dubiously used a sort of ancient stand-your-ground law as a defense during trial and was exonerated. Poor Linos: an honest man beaten by a lyre.

5. Sophia Rasch // Suffocated While a Piano Muffled her Screams

Pixabay, Pexels

No one better proves George Bernard Shaw’s quip that “hell is full of musical amateurs” than Susannah Koczula. “I have seen Susannah trying to play the piano several times—she could not play,” 10-year-old Carl Rasch testified at Koczula’s 1894 trial. Susannah, the Rasch’s caregiver, distracted little Carl, sister Clara, and their neighborhood friend Woolf with an impromptu performance while a gruesome scene unfolded upstairs: Koczula’s husband tied and suffocated Carl and Clara’s mother, Sophia Rasch, before making off with her jewelry. “She banged the piano,” explained Woolf. “I heard no halloaing.”

6. Marianne Kirchgessner // A Nervous Disorder Acquired Playing the Glass Armonica

According to one doctor, Ben Franklin's instrument caused "a great degree of nervous weakness."Ji-Elle, Wikimedia Commons // CC BY-SA 3.0

Benjamin Franklin invented the glass harmonica, or armonica, in 1761, unleashing a deadly scourge upon the musical world. “It was forbidden in several countries by the police,” wrote music historian Karl Pohl in 1862, while Karl Leopold Röllig warned in 1787 that “It’s not just the gentle waves of air that fill the ear, but the charming vibrations and constant strain of the bowls upon the already delicate nerves of the fingers that combine to produce diseases which are terrible, maybe even fatal.” In 1808, when Marianne Kirchgessner, Europe’s premiere glass armonica virtuoso, died at the age of 39, many suspected nervousness brought on by playing the instrument.

7. Charles Ratherbee // Lung Disease Possibly Caused by Playing the Trumpet

A valve trumpet made by Elbridge G. Wright, circa 1845.Purchase, Robert Alonzo Lehman Bequest (2002), Metropolitan Museum of Art // Public Domain

One summer day in 1845, Charles Ratherbee, a trumpeter, got into a fight with Joseph Harvey, who rented space in a garden from Ratherbee and was sowing seeds where the trumpeter had planned to plant potatoes. When confronted, Harvey became upset and knocked Ratherbee to the ground with his elbow. Two weeks and five days later, Ratherbee was dead.

Harvey was arrested for Ratherbee’s death, but a doctor pinpointed another killer: An undiagnosed lung disease made worse by his musical career. “The blowing of a trumpet would decidedly increase [the disease],” the surgeon testified at Harvey’s manslaughter trial. When asked if he was “in a fit state to blow a trumpet” the surgeon replied bluntly, “No.” Harvey was acquitted and given a suspended sentence for assault. The trumpet was never charged.