The Passing (so to speak)
of the American Outhouse


I suppose most of ya'll are too young to remember when outhouses were common, but I'm barely old enough to remember there were still many outhouses around Puget Sound even into the 1960s & 1970s.

They were mainly on lakefront & cabin properties (where unfortunately the seepage from a dozen properties with outhouses was sufficient to cause horrible algae blooms in once-prestine lakes).

They were also on rural properties that had once been large farms but were getting divided up & built upon, far from the reach of public sewer systems.

Those were days when many small companies would set up business to dig private wells & put in septic tanks, both of which were expensive to have done, so wherever economies were suppressed & money was tight, a well was dug long before the septic tank.

My great-aunt had a house on Long Lake across the Narrows Bridge for two decades before water, sewer, or electricity reached to the lake. Today Long Lake is over-developed, but back then ours was one of three or four houses at that end of the lake. The whole family used the house as a summer get-away, & upon occasion some down-&-out member of the family would live there more or less permanently in exchange for caring for the property.

Nowadays you'd have to be rich to own a property as nice as that right on the water, with private dock & a pretty darned nice post-&-block house. But in those days you could buy waterfront property for thirty dollars down, thirty dollars a month, at three percent interest, & even po' folk owned summer retreats.

We got water from a hose that was placed in a surface-water stream higher than the house, heated & cooked from a woodstove, had kerosene & hissing white-gas lanterns for light, & cooked in an iron wood-burning stove with oven & a hand-filled hot-water attachment, or outdoors in a firepit.

About fifty feet out the back door was a two-seater. On a stormy night if you had to pee, it was a barefoot run through the storm to do it, except for great-gramma who wasn't spry enough for it, & if she was spending a few days at the lake, she'd use a thundermug & had one of us kids empty it in the outhouse for her the next morning.

If I had a nice big rural woodsy property today, it would of course have a decent septic system, but even so, I'd also want to build a really cool outhouse just for the beauty & wonder of it. It would be a lovely (not to mention useful) garden ornament.

I'd build it from recycled boards. I'd carve a moon-hole vent in front door, a star-hole in the back wall. The door would open onto a view! I might even paint it in two shades of blue with orange alchemical & astrological symbols all over it, with a tiny cedar shake peaked roof. I'd plant fragrant vines & flowers that'd practically envelop it, & a Pacific elderberry tree behind it, which sometimes smell like outhouses anyway.

Ooo, eeee, ahhhh, it'd be such a joy to take a shit.


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