I totally LOVED the article on the outhouses in the November 2008 issue. You asked for additional stories: Here goes from my past experiences.
When we lived at Dumpling Rock Lighthouse, in Massachusetts, I was very little, so I don’t remember this, but it was family (embarrassing story) lore that my sister, Bette, learned what the word “windward” meant. It was Bette’s turn to empty the chamber pot. She threw it into a “returning wind” and when she came back in the house, alas, she was covered and literally mad as a wet hen. (Mom and Dad would “mention” this little story later on when Bette would bring home a date!) I was in diapers then, so I don’t remember the facilities as such; however, I am sure they were primitive, miserable and COLD; hence, the chamber pot. You have to remember, they were on an itsy-bitsy lighthouse island, just big enough for the lighthouse, surrounded by Buzzard’s Bay and there was not much room outside around the house and buildings, I know that, so going to the necessary room I am sure was delayed until ABSOLUTELY necessary. It just had to be an ordeal.
When we moved to Cuttyhunk Lighthouse my parents did remark that the outhouse there was a big improvement. Since I can’t remember the prior facilities, I don’t know about that, but guess since the Cuttyhunk one was not too pleasant; the one at Dumpling Rock had to have been pretty terrible.
At Cuttyhunk Lighthouse, what I do know is that it was located within the end of the barn. It was a three-holer, two adult sized ones and a kid sized one, the child one even located lower so that your feet could touch the floor. We DID have a Sears catalog (the brown pages were the best) and sometimes Montgomery Wards, though Sears was a better quality toilet paper (much softer). I remember that distinctly. For those who have not experienced toileting in the old days, these were not there for reading material; they were of practical use. At night, we had a family ritual where Dad lit a lantern (It was WW-II and flashlight batteries were expensive and mostly unobtainable in the war years and we had to conserve them for safety reasons only) and we three would make our trip out there to do our business. Now, this may sound “strange” to you all, but we did this as a family; it was dark and nothing personal was showing and it was just what we all did. I am sure many other families did it and just like that, too. (In the daytime, it was different and we made individual trips whenever we needed.) Then it was off to bed and any nighttime emergency need was taken care of by a chamber pot in every bedroom. I have seen pictures of Cuttyhunk Lighthouse before we got there and the outhouse was on the outside of the barn. Dad told me when the prior keeper, Mr. Gustavus, was there he had a large family and he moved it into the barn, the location there being less exposed and less cold, plus where it was located it was easily cleaned each year. (Having watched Dad perform that chore, I hardly thing the word “easy” covered the deed, but he said it did.)
I have two memorable comments on the Cuttyhunk Lighthouse Outhouse: The first was when one of the Government inspectors had to use the outhouse and he thought we should modernize since this was in winter and it was plenty cold out there. Therefore, he said, “We are sending you a chemical toilet that you can install in that spare closet upstairs.” So, we got it, and it was so awful and so smelly, we got rid of it (storing it outside in case the next inspector asked about it and we’d put it back) and resumed using our good old cold outhouse. Pooey on chemical toilets!
The other memory was after the 1944 hurricane. We let the chickens out of the barn where we had stashed them for their safety. They were more than ready to go outside and so they did. However, we heard this distorted and distressed chicken clucking. We searched all over the barn for the hen. Alas, she had fallen inside of the outhouse. We couldn’t believe it (I bet she could NOT believe it). Dad fished her out of there through the clean-out hatch. My mother said, “Now that’s one we never will eat,” and so she became our senior chicken.
When we moved to West Chop Lighthouse on Martha’s Vineyard, all wonders of wonders, we had electricity, running water and WOW a flush toilet. By that time I was 6-years old and I can’t believe any kid ever appreciated a toilet more than I did. After about 20 flushings by me, my parents chased me outside and assured me I’d never have to use an outhouse again. I was some glad of that!
Best wishes to you and all the Lighthouse Digest subscribers.
Seamond Ponsart Roberts
More On The “Potty”
My wife and I volunteer for past of the year at the two lighthouses in Newport, Oregon and have done so for the past then years. This year we restored the two public restrooms at the Yaquina Bay Lighthouse that was built in 1871. The objective was to make the modern facilities resemble the original interior of the structure with its wainscoting, molding and wood floor. The project turned out rather well thanks to the support of the Oregon State Parks and donations form local businesses. One of the rangers calls us “The Potty People.” So, we found the November 2008 Little Houses at the Lighthouses both well done and very interesting.
During the rather brief three year use as a beacon marking the entrance to the bay, lighthouse keeper Charles Peirce, wife Sarah and seven of their children shared a very small one or two holer at the very end of the structure which was built on what was then a windswept sand dune. Below the privy was the 1870s version of a septic tank (a hole) located approximately 20 feet from an in ground cistern which collected rainwater off the roof for use by the family. Sandra Shanklin’s description of the lack of sanitation was right on the mark. Clearly strong constitutions back then!
At the north end of town is the Yaquina Head Lighthouse, which at a height of 93 feet is Oregon’s tallest. Volunteers conduct tours of the light in period costume, and on busy summer season days more than 700 people can climb the 104 steps to reach the watch room. From time to time people ask what the keepers did on those long cold nights when nature called. Would they go back down and into the nearby quarters to do their business? Or perhaps something else? If pressed, I quote the following poem, which may well be very close to the truth!
Walk ye not low the light by night
Lest befall an awful plight.
For from above a rain might fall,
Like none ere seen by one and all.
Keepers tend for hours on end,
The flame far out they do send.
But time takes toll on body and soul,
So be wary of what above may dole.
We thoroughly enjoy reading each and every issue of Lighthouse Digest and enhancing our knowledge of these historic structures that played such a vital role in the economic development of our nation. And, many, many thanks to Sandra Shanklin for a well done article and your staff for the wonderful design of the layout. Keep up the good work!
The Potty People
Rich and Linda Crooks
I have been subscribing to Lighthouse Digest for several years now. Just wanted to say that the January-February issue, in my opinion, is the best one yet. It covered a lot of lighthouse information. Many thanks for a GRRRRRRRREAT issue,
When I turned to page 17 I was delighted to see a picture of my grandfather, Capt. Frank Cotton beside a poem by Edgar Guest. What a nice coincidence, Frank’s daughter, Ethel Cotton Gould had two books of poems by Edgar Guest that she loved to read. Capt. Cotton was a very popular lighthouse keeper at Two Lights in Cape Elizabeth, Maine. He died at age 63 on Sept 6, 1932 when I was eight years old. I wonder what he would think about seeing his picture in a magazine with world wide circulation. Thank you for this issue, one of the best editions ever.
Marion A. Gould Shepard
This story appeared in the
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