There was no way we could cover the complex issues covered in modern American outhouse postcards in one column. I promise we will not dive too deeply into the sociological implications of the cards, as we are certain to come up in worse condition than we went in, but I hope you have noted these cards tend to come from the 1940s and later, at a point when city folk—the type who regularly went on vacations and bought postcards—had indoor plumbing, and could regard the old outhouse as an amusing sidelight on a car trip into less developed regions.
We have discussed, and one of our loyal readers has commented on, what the outhouse seemed to visitors from the city. As seen above, it could be an alarming and startling feature of a vacation on the farm. After a while, it could become customary, and even familiar (this applies primarily to people who stayed for a while in the world of outdoor facilities.) But even people who were accustomed to the outhouse had to admit it had its uncomfortable side.
First and foremost,the outdoor toilet was outdoors. And the body is not prepared to wait out the weather to take care of its own requirements. This applied to the tourist at a rustic tourist camp
And to the farm resident who had the joys out year-round trips outdoors.
Weather aside, there was also the simple fact that the outhouse was, for fairly obvious reasons, located a certain distance from the house.
There were other disadvantages to having the outhouse outdoors. Like any structure not constantly occupied by humans, it might become the shelter of any passing wildlife which needed a roof. The most common resident I’ve heard about was the spider, but any critter who wanted a sheltered space at night, or a dark space during the day, might, and would, take up at least temporary residence, rendering the homely outhouse an air of the modern fairground Halloween haunted abode.
You might meet anybody on your way to the little house out back. (By the way, although some of the architectural variations seen here are due to the cartoonists’ designs, outhouses did vary wildly in structure, height, and other factors. Note that this one is not only small, but seems to have no door. Molly Picon tells the story of a visitor to the old country who found the family outhouse had no back wall. When she complained, she was asked “Who knows you from that side?”)
There were not a LOT of alternatives to using the outhouse, but where there were bushes, these did exist, and sometimes seemed preferable.
Sometimes extremely preferable.
And it wasn’t only wildlife which could cause conniptions. If some of your loving family had warped senses of humor, there were all kinds of ruckus they could raise.
A cowboy couldn’t even count on his horse or dog for support at times like these.
On the other hand, the temporary nature of the outdoor toilets (which had to be moved from time to time, allowed for modifications which even city folk could not boast, as seen here with the slide-a-size invention here which allowed you to choose a comfortable seat, unlike your cousins in town who had to make do with One Size Fits All.
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