Historically Speaking: The outdoor facilities
Last time we talked about the lack of running water in homes in the old days. Now lets get to the other part of our lack of plumbing years ago in rural areas-the lack of the modern bathroom as we know it today, with its streamlined toilet, tub and shower and sleek lavatory.
There were many names for the outdoor toilet-outhouse, biffy, privy or latrine. It was a small building, usually pictured as having a crescent-shaped opening for ventilation. It was situated over a hole dug about six feet into the ground in an out-of-the-way place, not too close to the house but close enough to be available on dark, stormy nights.
I remember it as the home of many kinds of spiders. There was no light, and there were hinges on the door so it could close for privacy. Some were equipped with a single hole, while some had two holes. Others also had a large hole and a small one (for the kids). Some people used old Sears or Wards catalogs for paper (leaving the glossy hard sheets to be used last), but most people did have modern toilet paper. Generally it was a place to sit and think and dream!
During inclement weather, a chamber pot, sometimes called a “thunder pot”, was used indoors and later emptied into the outdoor facility. These pots were usually three to four gallons in capacity, and elaborately decorated with a tight-fitting lid. They were extremely useful on a stormy or rainy night and in the wintertime.
There was no garbage disposal back then. Old cans and broken glass were discarded into a swampy area for fill-in, and covered with dirt periodically. Papers and cardboard were burned, and compost heaps were almost a necessity. Old tires, aluminum and other metals were collected and sold to the local junk man for a few dimes.
Thomas Crapper was tine inventor of the flush toilet, and the first commercial toilet paper was produced in 1857. It was unbleached pearl-colored paper, and sold 500 sheets for $.50.
At Halloween time, the outdoor privy was the target of pranksters, and many times the older boys in the neighborhood over-turned these small buildings. Fortunately, it was not much of a job to set them upright and over the pits again. There are some stories told of someone being in the outhouse when it was tipped over. This would certainly have been disastrous!
Today we have our decorator bathrooms (powder rooms), and these rooms are equipped with the latest in exhausts, fans, electric light fixtures, elaborate medicine cabinets, outlets for shavers and hair dryers, etc.-just all of the possible conveniences one can imagine. Next time you are in your lovely bathroom, look around and be very thankful for progress and the sanitary conditions we enjoy today.
What a contrast our new modern homes with every possible convenience are to the old days of the well, the outhouse and the garbage dump!