“When memory keeps me company
And moves to smile or tears,
A weather beaten object
Looms through the mist of years,
Behind the house and barn it stood,
A half a mile or more,
And hurrying feet a path had made,
Straight to its swinging door.”
This is but a bit of the classic James Whitmore Riley ode to the outhouse entitled “The Passing of the Backhouse,” in 1910.
Another classic little house story is about Coolidge Wineseth, the 76-year-old World War II vet who was known far and wide as a great fiddler, but now he’s known as “the man who fell in.” The Ivanhoe, Virginia man had the misfortune of falling through the floor of his rotten outhouse.
That’s the good news.
The bad news is that it took three days for the mailman to get curious enough to search for him.
Statistics show that Americans spend the most time in the bathroom on Sunday and the least time on Thursday. This same survey also states that the average female spends nearly three years of her lifetime in the bathroom.
My experience on a cold January morning in the outhouse tells me that she wasn’t racking up a lot of those hours in winter.
No waiting — there are a few two story outhouses around. One is in Phelps, New York, attached to a fine historic home and has a three-holer on each level.
In Austinburg, Ohio there remains a twelve-seater. In Minnesota, there is a two-story, free-standing outhouse with a skywalk.
H. D. Thoreau’s thoughts on this matter were, “I’d rather sit on a pumpkin, and have it all to myself, than to be crowded on a velvet cushion.”
What’s up with the crescent moon on the door? Is it just to make sure the flies and wasps have full access or convenient for the Peeping Toms?
No, I’ve found out that there are several believable theories. One is that at one time, outhouses were considered for men only and the crescent moon was supposed to make it more inviting to women.
The moon is the Luna (moon) symbol and is meant to represent the goddess, Diana. The function of the cutout is certainly to allow sunlight and ventilation, not to mention the view.
The bath and a path set up is usually not in the front yard. It is usually in the direction of nature and tranquility. This creates a setting for deep thinkers.
“I lived in solitude in the country and noticed how the monotony of a quiet life stimulates the creative mind.” – A. Einstein.
Ah yes, “That little brown shack out back, so dear to me, will stand forever in my memory” –Billy Ed Wheeler.
This little ode to the outhouse would be incomplete without the mention of Chic Sale. He was the outhouse “specialist” in Indiana during The Great Depression.
Charles “Chic” Sale wrote a book called The Specialist in 1929 about Lem Putt, a champion architect, engineer and contractor of outhouses. For more information on the great American outhouse, you might read Outhouses by Roger Welsh, Outhouse Images and Contemplations by Brown Trout Publishers or Outhouses by Holly Bollinger.
“Nature gave man two ends – one to sit on and the other to think with. Ever since then, man’s success had been determined by which one he uses most” –G. Kirkpatrick.
I believe someone was probably utilizing both ends when they dreamed up “You Bet Your Ice” in Holden, Mass. The Rotary builds a new outhouse each January.
They put it out on the ice on the lake and sell five dollar raffle tickets to anyone who can predict the day and month it will sink. The winner usually wins over $2000 and they have everything on a website.
They also have this all on a security camera to document all movement of the outhouse and to keep the country boy pranksters honest.
Some things never change, do they?
I hope that this little trip along the path outback has been a pleasant trip down memory lane for you. I’m not saying I’m good or old, but those sure were the good old days.
You may think this all to be nostalgic or melancholy, but remember — it’s never safe to be nostalgic about something until you’re absolutely certain there’s no chance of it coming back.
I think I’ll just call them precious memories.
Dudley Wooten can be reached at 740-820-8210 or by visiting wootenslandscaping.com.