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THE CITY REBORN FROM THE ASHES OF AMERICA'S MOST DISASTROUS FOREST FIRE
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From My Window

Issue Date: March 16, 2018

Privy Musings II

By Jane Thibodeau Martin,


This week, with great pleasure, I present feedback from some of the column readers on the piece that ran two weeks ago about outdoor toilets. I have been writing the column for nearly two years now, and have never received so many thoughtful, intelligent and entertaining reader responses before. Several were quite lengthy and one had a photo, which I wish I could share but I am sure it is too dark to reproduce in the paper well. No matter, I will describe it, and am sure you will enjoy the comments as much as I did. I will credit each author by first name and city of residence, with their permission. Due to space constraints, I have had to edit extensively.

Reader Bob, from Illinois, wrote that his parents had a farm near Orangeville, IL where Bob grew up. Theirs was also a three-hole privy, a large, a medium and a small hole. He confirms it was a very dark, cold trip in the winter, and to avoid that at times they utilized a "chamber pot," or china vessel " low and broad, that served the purpose without having to leave the house. In the morning, a "manual" emptying of the pot had to occur. An indoor toilet was installed when he was around 10 years old. He recalled his grandparents, who were the first family residents of the house, having to haul water from a well outdoors inside since there was no water line into the house. To take a "bath" water was heated on the kitchen range. Bob was once a student in the class of an English teacher " my father, David Thibodeau.

Reader Sabin from Silver Cliff also utilized a chamber pot in the winter, and she would take it out to empty it in the morning, and draw a pail of water for use inside the house on the same trip. Sabin's comments about multiple privy seats prompts me to remember that that families, especially farm families, were much larger in the old days than they are now; having eight or more children was not uncommon, so it made sense for there to be more than one seat. She said theirs had two holes. My readers are confirming that my parent's three-hole privy was probably the rule, and not the exception. I learn something new every day!

Joan from Monroe said her one-room schoolhouse in Green County had a two seat privy and two students would use it at one time. Her husband Bill said that there was a "day of reckoning" when the toilet pit became full; and they had to tip the toilet off to one side and shovel out the pile. He recalls shoveling the mess into a manure spreader. He also said they did not have toilet paper but used Sears catalog pages for that purpose.

Gayle, class of 1971 Peshtigo High School, reminds us that not only private residences and schools had outdoor privies. She said that Equity Park's dance hall (still standing and active today) at one time had men's and women's facilities on either end of the stage in the hall. The women's had a row of at least four "adult" holes and a little one on the end for youngsters. Bad enough to use a privy with family or schoolmates, but at a dance hall you could be sharing the job with total strangers. I do remember using outdoor privies at Equity Park's ball diamond when I played softball, but I don't recall attending an event in the dance hall until many years later. But I am sure many readers in that area will enjoy Gayle's recollection. She said in the dead of winter the unheated women's dance-hall privy would be so cold you could see your breath inside!

Lillian, from Weston, is 96 and took time to hand-write me a letter about the column. She may be 96 but she's obviously still very sharp and engaged and I really enjoyed hearing from her. Lillian taught school in Coleman for many years. She said the privy she used growing up also had three holes, two for adults and one for children. Their privy had a hinged door in the back to allow for the "day of reckoning" which would have eliminated the need for tipping over the outhouse to empty the pit. She grew up using Montgomery Ward and Sears Roebuck catalogs for toilet paper, and said for some reason her family called the privy "Mrs. Jones." (Probably as in, "I am going outside to see Mrs. Jones.") She said most of her grade school years were spent boarding away from her own home, (likely because it was too far from the little school she attended to return home every day) and that at one point, due to a measles outbreak at the home where she was boarded, she was sent to another home to board for a time. When she asked where their privy was, she was told "they didn't have one." She eventually realized some family members were using the barn for that purpose. I greatly enjoyed hearing from Lillian, and her son who tracked me down to deliver her letter. He's a teacher in the Wausau area, and heaven knows I have nothing but extreme respect for teachers " so thank you for your service to the children of Wisconsin, Lillian and Glover.

Last, but by no means least, Ron from Wausaukee sent the most entertaining e-mail I ever got from a reader. Ron is a bit of a privy expert, stating that he has a large collection of photos of privies from all over the world. He said the only multiple-hole privy left that he knows of in the Marinette County area is in Dunbar, "abandoned, but still a rare gem." Ron included a photo of his beautifully restored and refinished three-hole privy seat, that he obtained from a Sheboygan farm belonging to the Bezeener family that dates from the early 1880's. The photo shows the seat hanging inside a building and it is a striking artifact. Ron is now the only person I know who has a display privy seat. There is NOTHING like an aficianado of any type, and Ron's enthusiasm is contagious.

Bob, Sabin, Joan, Bill, Gayle, Lillian, Glover and Ron; thanks to all of you for taking time to share your thoughts with me, and giving me permission to share them with the Times readers. Let us all be grateful for indoor plumbing, and for toilet paper. The generations before were a hardy bunch, and I am sure complaining about the bathroom facilities never crossed their minds. Although, I think it's likely that a little complaining may have accompanied the "day of reckoning."

You can reach me for commentary, alternative viewpoints or ideas at this e-mail address: Janiethibmartin@gmail.com." Keep that column feedback coming!


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