"The Delight"

History & Stories

Included here are some personal stories about outhouses, Some were submitted via other mail lists and slight corrections have been made. ENJOY!!

An OUTHOUSE = privy, necessarium, toilet, water closet, biffie, john, potty, latrine, comfort station or crapper

Date: 98-02-05
From: mdmodlin@netins.net (Marilyn Modlin)
From.................. "Iowa's Vanishing Outhouse" by Bruce Carlson:

"The history of the quarter-moon on the door of the outhouse goes way back. Most serious historians who are students of the subject are of the opinion that the custom started in Europe in the 1500s or the 1600s. It was common practice, back then, to identify which outhouse was which by means of a circular symbol on the door of the men's' and a quarter-moon on the ladies'. The use of symbols rather than words was necessary due to the widespread illiteracy of the times. When a feller can't read and is headed for the outhouse, he sure doesn't need some incomprehensible hieroglyphics on the door to figure out. The circular symbol and the quarter-moon were Europe's version of the Chinese Yin and Yang. The circle was representative of the sun which symbolized masculinity. The more subdued and submissive moon, on the other hand, represented femininity. The use of the circle and quarter-moon was especially common at inns and houses for lodging. Not only was illiteracy a problem, but also the clientele of such places was more likely to be travelers from another country and another language. These universal signs were easy to make and easy to "read", so most such places had the little houses out back so designated, one with a circular sign, and one with the quarter-moon. So why is the quarter-moon applied in more recent times to outhouses in general? The answer to that apparently lies in the economics of maintaining outhouses. If one of the outhouses at an inn, for example, were to have fallen into a state of disrepair, the solution was often to transfer, if necessary, the quarter-moon onto the surviving structure. It was reasoned that the men could always simply step into the shadows of the trees. An outhouse had to be kept for the ladies, of course, so whatever outhouse fell apart first was automatically the men's. This practice became so widespread that in many cases only a women's outhouse would be available to those who frequented such public places. Since those carried the quarter-moon, that symbol soon evolved into the sign for any outhouse, in general, rather than one for ladies only."
Date: Wed, 4 Feb 1998
From: ERDFEST@worldnet.att.net

We too had an outdoor privy. Our house was built right next to Grandma and Grandpa's. they built it themselves after they lost their house in town (Ashtabula). During the 50's we dug a septic tank and put indoor plumbing into their house. We still didn't have one, used a "thunder mug". Guess who had to empty that smelly thing! Ooooooowwweeeee! But, the outhouse was left standing. We had a three holer, small for the kids, medium for Dad & Grandpa, large for Grandma & Mom. The outhouse was movable and Grandpa always located it so that the door was directly behind an oak tree to which he would affix a panel of boards, so that you could use the outhouse with the door open, the advantage should be obvious. I thought it was really neat right up until I graduated from High School. You wouldn't be bothered. It was a perfect spot to go and read undisturbed, just like bathrooms today. No, it didn't smell. Grandpa always kept a bag of lime with a tin can in it in the corner, and every now and then, you'd simply dump some down the holes, you'd know when. And besides, you left the door open. To this day at home, I leave the door open. Habit. Now, you didn't always use a three seater alone. There was no embarrassment in sharing the outhouse, often my younger brother and I were there at the same time, same schedules, you know. In retrospect, the outhouse was a Free Zone. It's gone today. Along with the henhouse and garage. The garage had been the original house until the new house was built. Our house was next to it, and our garage/barn behind. Gone in a brush fire. The woods behind our property are also gone now to an apartment house complex. Those woods from whose bosom I would pick wildflowers in the spring for my mother; white dogtooth violets, purple and yellow ones. Yellow adder tongues and spring beauties. We'd leave the Trilliums because they were so few. It was always a thrill when my brother and I would find a new one in the spring. All gone. Down at the end of our road where it connected to Us 20, you now have a stoplight and if you go straight you enter Wal-Mart where once dairy cows pastured and there was a creamery. A gigantic plaza sits next to Wally World. There's now a piece of interstate down to the Harbor! I miss sitting in that old outhouse even at night when only the stars or moon was your light, maybe you carried a flashlight. Although, I do like my warm inside one at this side of 50. I know why Grandpa built the inside one.
Date: Sat, 11 Apr 1998
From: Asa Daniel adaniel@gte.net
Subject: Outhouses

This last week-end we had the big race here in Texas - The Texas 500 -now this is a big deal for the economy of our region and it got me to thinking.....now it kind of hurts when I think so I try and think and relate to things that I know about - that way it is not as painful. The press was talking about the pit stops that will be omnipresent along North Texas highways today as thousands of motorists head for the NASCAR race at Texas Motor Speedway. They are sleek, air-freshened mini rooms, complete with easy-pull paper. But I have a little trouble here cause I don't know too much about that but one thing I do know is outhouses. Ya see when I was a mere Lad I was a honey-dipper! What is a honey dipper ya say? Well I'll tell you about that later...Cause this is now, but back "then" folks raced for plum thickets, seeking a measure of privacy. So now that the subject is out in the open, let's talk about outhouses. Outhouses. You know, houses that were, well, out back, out yonder, out of sight, out a-ways. We are short of such buildings these days, but every community in the rural counties of Northeast Texas there are reminders that they were once as common as plum thickets. Preparation for widening highway frontage along Farm Road 1709 two years ago uncovered reminders of a rural past in the form of sheds, outhouses and other kinds of folk architecture. Outhouses, forerunners of today's toilet facilities, were not always heralded as the best idea since the wheel. A story is told about a German family who came to Texas in the 1850s and built an outhouse on their property, the first ever. Citizens of the settlement were so offended that, under cover of darkness, they tore the thing down three times, considering the place indecent and an affront to the sensibilities of civilized frontier people. Ya see it was better to hide in the bushes. Or, for the women folk, to use chamber pots and such inside the house. In the last 50 years or so that many citizens were putting indoor plumbing in their homes that, too, was resisted by some. One woman protested when her grown children offered her modern bathroom amenities. "I just don't know," she said. "Seems to me business of a private nature ought not be done inside the house." Outhouses were wood, one- or two-holers with a half-moon or some other decoration on the door, granddaddy long-legs crawling up your legs, corncobs and/or catalogs on the floor within reach. Funny stories abound, but one of the best is about a lady who wrote to Sears, Roebuck and Co. wanting to order toilet paper. A letter was sent to the customer asking for the page and item number from the book. Her swift reply was, "If I'd had the catalog, I wouldn't have needed to order the toilet paper." Of the boyhood pranks recounted in area histories, pushing over an outhouse, especially on Halloween, was the ultimate. If somebody was inside at the time, all the better. There is a large vocabulary for the place where one might attend to private needs, all of the words designed to circumnavigate the obvious: privy, necessarium, toilet, water closet, biffie, john, potty, latrine, comfort station and Crapper, so called in honor of Thomas Crapper, the father of modern plumbing. (Bet ya didn't know that did you?) There were instructions and blueprints in farm magazines of the late 19th and early 20th centuries for building outhouses. The door was of prime importance. It must always swing in, to give the user full control over entrance and exit. "Why? If the door swung out, well, then where would you be? " one builder said. Placement of the outhouse should, naturally, be behind the main house, in line with the wood shed. "Take a woman, for instance - out she goes. On the way back she'll gather five sticks of wood, and the average woman will make four or five trips a day. On a good day you'll have your wood box filled by noon. " So said Charles "Chick" Sales in a 1929 publication. Landscaping was important. Fig trees were recommended because they benefited from the constant replenishing of the soil. Cover vines such as trumpet, morning glory and coral were advised for color and screening; wisteria and honeysuckle for fragrance. Times have changed, but often the basic idea remains. Modern bathrooms are, of course, things of beauty and a joy forever. Chamber pots have found modern adaptations in camping pots featuring heavy-duty plastic. But a few of you readers know the efficacy of a 3-pound coffee can kept in the trunk of the car. It has been the traveling emergency equipment in my family for the last three generations. Which now brings me to the "HONEY DIPPER"....It were one in my younger years and our job was to move the outhouses and to cover up the reminders of where it once was....My cousin Tinker and I was the "bestest" honey dippers in the agurs community and we got all the calls to move the "TOILETS". Now I kin member one time we were moving this here outhouse and it was on a Saturday and we had us a big day planned out (probably going to Dixie Garden Rodeo or sumpin') Well we had moved the outhouse and now we were trying to "Cover up" and I he kept saying that was enough dirt over it and I didn't think so......well finally I agreed and told him to jump up and down on it several times to "pack down" the dirt and we would be through and we could go.....he did and he sunk to his waist in waste....he he.......he didn't go to the rodeo that day......he he. If reading this has been a mystery to you from beginning to end, call your grandmother or somebody else's. Asa D............LOLASAS
From: JustJayCee JustJayCee@aol.com
Sent: Sunday, March 29, 1998

In a message dated 98-03-29 19:47:17 EST, you write:
<< Of trees I robbed in days of yore, Then seek the shanty where my Name is carved upon the door. >>
My aunt was the last in the family to get an indoor bathroom, and, believe it or not this was in the 1960's. (She is 87 years young now and still driving and as feisty as ever). The roof was blown off of the outhouse in a storm and my uncle saw no reason to replace it. So, they had an outhouse without a roof. Everything was okay until one day, a small private plane was flying over and discovered my aunt in the outhouse from overhead. She said he made several passes and she was sure he saw her. Instead of being embarrassed she said she just waved hello!!
Date: Sat, 11 Apr 1998
From: Lily <lilylace@ix.netcom.com>
Subject: Re: Outhouses

We grew up in New Hampshire and had an attached outhouse. A two holer I might add. Even after they put in indoor plumbing, which was before my time, it was still there cause it was part of the house. You could say we had an indoor outhouse. We thought it was really cool that the outhouse our great grand parents built was still there. Then one winter when the pipes froze and broke to the bathroom and we had to use the indoor outhouse. I think I was 10 or 11 at the time, and my sister even younger. We didn't think it was cool any longer it was down right cold. I bet she still remembers that winter just like I do. I could not even imagine walking through snow to get there, as I bet, you had to do.
Date: Wed, 1 Apr 1998
From: JustJayCee <JustJayCee@aol.com>
Subject: Chief Falling Rock

An Indian chief assembled the young men of his tribe and asked, "Who threw outhouse over cliff?" Nobody spoke up. Again the chief asked. Again there was silence. The chief went on saying, "Many moons ago, George Washington cut down cherry tree." "He confess. He no get whipping." "So tell me - who push outhouse over cliff?" Running Wind, a boy of ten and the chief's son, raised his hand. "I push outhouse over cliff." The chief smacked the kid hard on his rear end. Running Wind said, "George Washington no get hit by father." The chief said, "George Washington's father not in cherry tree when he chop it down."
Jean C.
Date: Sat, 11 Apr 1998
From: peggy116@juno.com
Subject: re-Outhouse story/This N' That

That was a great outhouse story! Brought back memories of when I was a girl and we picked beans/other produce in the field and used the outhouses. Like you say, at any time there was the threat of some "darn boys" knocking it over. This speeded up my use of the outhouse considerably, for the thought of being caught with one's pants down was a horror to my sensibilities! One foolish thing I did in the bean field at the age of perhaps 13---I had a huge crush on one of the farm worker's...I got to see him daily, but since my mother picked with us, I could not flirt much. One day as we began to leave the bean field in Mother's car I was in the front seat, and Rodney, my crush, walked in front of the car...Mother of course would not have dreamed of this, so I reached over with my foot to goose the gas pedal just a "little" to scare Rodney...it was all Mother could do to keep her foot jammed on the brake and avoid hitting him! Being a meek and obedient child normally, I was of course, thoroughly chastised, and Rodney certainly never walked in front of OUR car again, thinking my Mother was nuts! I guess that was the most mortifying thing I could have done; from then on I never dared to think 16 year old Rodney would even look my way. To her credit, my Mother never told him I did the dirty deed. Oh, the folly of youth! Another thing I recall is picking strawberries in the summer to earn our own nice school clothes. With 6 kids, there was never enough money to buy much more than one new pair of shoes and a couple outfits each year. So, all of us kids worked summers at whatever produce related job this beautiful Willamette Valley's farmers could provide at that time to any child over the age of 10. Well, we were looked after in the field by a lady who was acquainted with my Mother, and she checked our rows regularly to be sure we picked "clean". What she did not know was that upon occasion we would fill the strawberry flats half full with dirt, and then carefully cover it with strawberries full to the brim and get paid for only picking half the flat! I only tried this a couple of times as I was too afraid of the humiliation that would result if I was discovered and my Mother was to know! Not to mention telling Dad! The berry and bean fields, hoeing young plants, stringing green beans and such, all taught me a healthy work ethic and and no fear of physical labor. Today I am amazed that I meet young people in the workplace that have no incentive nor desire to do any kind of a good day's labor for their paycheck, and in fact whine that it is BORING, they are TIRED, and they want to GO HOME every 20 minutes. Go figure! All I can think is that they were not raised as I was. Well, I have gone on long enough.
Peggy of Portland, OR

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