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The Still Popular Privy

Updated on July 12, 2011

Outhouse, privy, earth-closet, crapper...just a few names given to describe an outside building in which people of an earlier era used to relieve themselves. You know, in the old days people bought powdered lime or lye to help with sanitation and smell.

While outhouses are no longer used in most areas, they are still popular. Not for their original purpose perhaps, but they are an artistic throwback to an earlier time in American History.

Many people have added one to their yard just for the colorful designs alone. Others put them to good use as storage sheds to keep gardening tools and supplies.

However, if you do plan on using it as a toilet, add wood chips or sawdust so the material will compost.

Although the butt of much ridicule, it cannot be denied the lowly outhouse admirably served our ancestors. But, believe it or not the outhouse is far from a thing of the past.

A little research will show there are outhouse tours, outhouse jokes, outhouse races, outhouse books, outhouse pictures and more!

Sites where outhouses used to stand have also become a treasure seeker’s dream. Although few have chosen to engage themselves as an “outhouse digger,” as they are called, these locations are one of the best places to find antique bottles and other old relics. Not to worry, after such a long time period, all organic contents have long since decomposed.

People often dumped their garbage down these holes. When an undisturbed site is found it represents a chronological record of the time period in which it was used. However, anyone thinking of delving into one of these old holes should use caution. Some have lost their lives from collapsing walls

According to legend, in colonial days outhouses were originally adorned with either a crescent moon, the symbol for women, or stars for men. Eventually, a crescent moon became used for both.

Outhouse Race

While these structures were precursors to modern day septic systems, they still hold an enduring place in the public consciousness. Many still receive a surprising amount of attention to their sometimes colorful and intricate designs.

As to be expected, there are more than a few amusing stories connected to these simple structures. One comes to mind that happened during the Civil War. It seems a Union colonel escaped capture from confederate troops in one. According to the tale, the colonel hid underneath the bench in the outhouse. Not surprisingly, the Confederates never looked down the hole. At last report, no one else has ever used that ploy again.

There are those who have made a hobby out of taking outhouse photographs for posterity. These photos are the subject of numerous books and posters. Some simply purchase outhouses outright as collector’s items.

On the other hand, new outhouses and designs are still being built. Not only as decorative additions to landscape or storage units, but many are used in parades and competition.

The world's largest Outhouse Race is held annually at Alaska's Fur Rondy Festival. The year 2011 marked the 76th anniversary of the event. You've never heard of an outhouse race? All you need is a homemade outhouse made of wood, cardboard, etc. built on skis and a team. Well, you might also need to know a few of the rules .

Of course, foremost consideration is safety for racers and the public. Generally basic rules apply no matter where the event is being held. Here are a few:

· Outhouses must have four walls, a roof, doorway and a seat with at least one hole. Any doors must be secured open during the race. There are usually no weight requirements.

· Must be no less than nine square feet at its base and a maximum overall width cannot exceed six feet. This includes any handles, grasping devices etc. It must be at least five feet high.

· Outhouses must be built of solid material structurally sound enough not to fall apart.

· No glass may be used.

· Each outhouse must have a "name," usually displayed on each side.

These are just a few, generally accepted rules. Application forms and official rules for specific events must be obtained from the sponsors.


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    • JY3502 profile imageAUTHOR

      John Young 

      7 years ago from Florence, South Carolina

      Yep! Sometimes I just don't know where I come up with some of this stuff. Thanks

    • Eiddwen profile image


      7 years ago from Wales

      Talk about being unique !!! Well you don't get more unique than this one !!

      Great hub and I have great vision in my mind now !!

      I have to vote this one up and up !!

      Ha ha ha!!

      Take care,



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