You weren’t expecting to see a fishing postcard again so soon, eh? Well, Cheddar Macaroon, you actually are NOT seeing one. This card is a representative of another mighty theme in postcard sending in the mid-century: the Outhouse Postcard.
Technically, an “outhouse” is any farm building which has been constructed outside the main house, though large buildings, like the barn or the stable, have their own names. But a tool shed or a building for miscellaneous storage can, and sometimes is, referred to as an outhouse. But the outhouse saluted in a great deal of American literature is the outdoor toilet facility, the “little house out back”, as some polite folks called it. (There are less polite names, and you can look these up if, indeed, you can’t figure out what they are without looking.)
We do not have space here to cover the spot held by the outhouse in American literature over the past century or so. The outhouse was becoming a thing of the past a century ago, which some people were grateful for, and others objected to. A few souls complained that having a sewage line running to the house was unsanitary (those chamberpots were not, I suppose), and some people missed being able to get a moment’s rest outside the house, without the noise of the rest of the family. (Any parent who has tried to use the indoor toilet alone knows how this worls.)
So why did they turn up on so many postcards? Well, for the modern city dweller of the mid twentieth century, the only places one might encounter an outhouse were places one might go on vacation. And by mid-century, the main buyers and senders of postcards were people on vacation.
Travelers in the era before the modern gas station with clean, or at least available, restrooms had to find what “rest stops” they could. (This has to be one of the most popular postcards of the day: the pairing of lorgnette and outhouse was irresistible.)
And the average tourist cabin or trailer park was so associated with outhouses that combining the ad for one with a picture of the other became commonplace.
Publishers vying with each other to see how many bit of wordplay could be fit into one card.
This column does not choose winners in these competitions. However….
Some tourist tra…spots in fact advertised their outhouses rather than the place you were actually coming to see. (As time went by, these places often kept the outside appearance of an outhouse but put a modern restroom inside, a sort of cheating which most visitors approved.)
Tourists also encountered the outhouse at popular places where outdoor plumbing had not quite been figured out yet, as in this beach resort where the gag still has me puzzled. To get paint exactly there, they would have had to sit down with their bathing suits still on, which seems at the very least to be a bit untidy. I believe I’m overthinking these things again.
But the days of the rural motel outhouse and its appeal to vacationers was on the wane. As time went by, more and more of these facilities were modernized, until even roadside rest stops had actual plumbing instead of a hole in the ground. City dwellers on a trip could simply assume they would find modern conveniences wherever they went.
Which, of course, could lead to other embarrassments.
2 thoughts on “Going On the Road”
I remember using an outhouse while visiting relatives in Arkansas. I was five and couldn’t figure out why you had to go outside to use the facilities.
My own experiences of outhouses were at roadside rest stops. Nothing like ’em for convincing a child he didn’t really have to go, after all.
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