Moore to give lecture No. 2 on history of outhouses

Submitted Photo
Two men build an outhouse as part of a government sponsored outhouse building program during the Great Depression.

There is more to outhouses than meets the eye, and people tend to like it like that.

There is so much beyond what meets the eye that Gary Moore, North Carolina State University professor of agriculture education is giving a second Chautauqua Institution lecture on the topic, titled “History of the Outhouse II.”

Part of the Oliver Archives Heritage Lecture Series, Moore’s talk will begin at 3:30 p.m. today in the Hall of Christ.

Among the changes in the history of outhouses since Moore last spoke about them at the Institution is that the state of Ohio now requires them to be connected to septic systems.

But some of the same questions persist, as does a resilient American curiosity: Are outhouses still, in fact, in use? Why the moon in the door? Why are some outhouses one-holers and others two-holers? What in the world happens in winter?

Moore said if people are considering the virtue of outhouse living, they should first try one out in the winter.

“You might rethink that decision,” said Moore, president of the Association of Career and Technical Education.

Mother Earth News once advised its readers as to how to winterize an outhouse. Among their suggestions, keeping the toilet paper in a sealed glass jar might prevent the paper from freezing, and it might be wise to keep the seat warm in the main house between uses.

Moore lectures widely and frequently on the topic. People pepper him with questions over lunch. California has the most outhouses of any state. Alaska has the most per capita. The last time he spoke on the topic at Chautauqua, fellow lodgers at the Hagen-Wensley House, erudite and talented as they were, expressed genuine interest in Moore’s humble subject.

“The interest has a lot to do with nostalgia,” Moore said. “People think about the good old days.” And often people in his audience like to share funny stories. Someone has fallen through the floor. Someone has tipped an outhouse over. Someone has been in an outhouse that has been tipped over. Sometimes it is the same story told from one town to the next, so outrageous it likely didn’t happen, but so gripping that it has acquired mythic truth.

In their way, Moore said, outhouses can reflect the difference between boys and men. Boys tip them over. Men build them.