The Passing of the Privy

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Reprint from Burnsville 1976 Some additions/changes).

by Betty Sodomka (1976)

Was this Burnsville's last outhouse? [1]
In the past 200 years our great nation has made astounding advancements in many areas, but, in our haste for progress has anyone really thought deeply into the reverberating social changes brought about by indoor plumbing?

W as that two-holed monument of our past placed behind the lilac bush for privacy and discretion, or was it, even then, recognized by our wise predecessors to serve a function far greater than the needs of body elimination?

The growing girl or boy did not need physical fitness programs. In their first waking moments, they engaged in the 100 yard dash. Transcendental Meditation was replaced by early morning meditation accompanied by the song of the meadowlark or the wren. Where else could one be so alone as when the hook was latched on the backhouse door? Where could one exchange such confidence with a friend as in the quiet of the evening while perched with legs dangling from the two-holer? Some of the more thoughtful architects even provided a "childsize" hole[2] with no need to dangle the feet. The wild daisy plucked from the daisy lined path told the course of many a romance. The petals pulled to the tune of "he loves me, he loves me not," were on target at least half the time. Here much sage advice was dispensed from older cousins and aunts. Self-styled human relations courses were in constant session.

WPA Sanitation Poster[3]

Where else could you plan your wardrobe from the "Monkey Wards" catalog in such peace. The imagination was even challenged to fill in the outfits on the half torn out pages. There was no need for classes to provide increased sensory perception. One was doubly aware of the bountiful harvest, and that peach canning was over, as the peach crate offered its soft pink peach wrappers. This was a seasonal treat replacing their harsher sisters, the catalogue pages. The evening visits provided the challenge of avoiding the bats cavorting in the star-lit sky. Or the anticipation that perhaps the skunk, who steals eggs from the chicken house, could have such poor taste in housing as to have settled down in the backhouse, gave one a "crash awareness course."

What better place could the older daughter take the younger neighbor girl to find out what "really is going on at the neighbors"? Many a mother after an evening visiting the neighbors would quiz her child about what their neighbor had asked while in that two-hole conference room. Children had to be well instructed not to divulge the family secrets in this quiet setting.

History is still wrestling with the question of whether one of the early residents of Burnsville reacted in an aggressive or an assertive manner when her brother put the old red rooster down the backhouse hole, carefully replacing the corner and awaited Burnsville's historical "first mooning."

It is left to our imagination the creative artistry that could be developed if our youth were to "TP" with peach wrappers and catalogue pages.

We leave the challenge of correcting this upheaval of our social structure to the great minds of the philosophers, scientists and sociologists of the next 200 years.


  1. Photo: Jack Kennelly. Jack reported "Around 1975, winter, driving down County Road 42 near the intersection of Nicollet (near Cobblestone), I would always see this lone out-house. Finally shot the photo, which likely appeared in the Burnsville Current.
  2. One of our BVHS members related that her small-town landlord, back in about 1946, felt he might become rich with his outhouse invention. He installed a long smooth plank with several hole sizes. The plank extended through rectangular slots on either side. Markings indicated when the proper opening was in place for each family member. Our member said, "Of course the structure as a whole appeared to have wings and be ready for take-off."
  3. (Wikipedia article on the "Outhouse,"