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Tuesday, July 23, 2024
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The Long Way Home

Anyone who knows me knows that driving last year, I learned of The International Brick Collectors Association. The members of this group collected old, branded bricks, and they were coming to Grand Marais in the summer for their semi-annual swap meet. Ac­cording to my friend Jeff Bartheld, a collec­tor of many things, bricks included, the swap meet was a success and brought in collectors and their bricks from all over the country.

When I first watched the show American Pickers, I became aware that there are col­lectors of all kinds of things. Mike and Frank traveled the country looking to buy rare arti­facts and treasures from a sometimes motley assortment of collectors. It often prompted me to ask the question, “Who the heck would col­lect that?”

You won’t believe what kind of collectors I found this week.

A faithful reader of my rambling columns, Geri, emailed to ask me to consider writing about outhouses.

Curiosity had led her to investigate the sub­ject online, initially to try to understand the purpose of a “two-holler” like the one she re­membered from childhood.

“I don’t recall toileting being a group activ­ity, so got to wondering: why two holes?” she wrote.

We all have personal experiences and stories about outhouses or privies in rural America.

My favorite was about a family vacation at a lakefront resort near Aitkin, MN, when I was an impressionable, pre-pubescent subur­ban kid. I was familiar with this fundamental way of depositing bodily waste, but I didn’t care much for using the boxy outdoor “toilets.”

The resort cabins did not have indoor plumb­ing, but two-holers were spread out around the grounds. A romantic couple or two may have snuck in to do their business side-by-side, but I didn’t witness any of that.

Pinching my nose, trying not to breathe in, and “holding it” as long as I could before en­tering, I efficiently completed that part of my ablutions each day.

You can imagine that even by the 1960s, many people who had visited a lakeside resort were used to indoor plumbing. If you lived in New Brighton or Edina, running water and porcelain bowls were the thing.

The oldest son of the resort-owning family was a trouble seeker, all in good fun, of course. He’d hide near the back of one of the two-hol­ers, and when he saw a suburban housewife reluctantly coming to use it, he’d crouch down and wait a couple of minutes for the woman to get comfortable enough to let loose.

Then, in his best Scandinavian accent, he’d say, “Excuse me, ma’am, but could you move over to the next hole? I’m painting down here.”

The result was hilarious, life-affirming, really.

Google research shows that a two—or three-holer was meant to evenly distribute the contents of the pit it sat on. Some outhouses had drawers below each hole that were removed when full and dumped somewhere far, far away.

Even more interesting, multiple holers were meant to accommodate as many simultaneous users as possible following a lengthy coun­ty board or church meeting, just like today’s men’s and ladies’ rooms.

Now, to the collectors.

There is a YouTube video about outhouse archaeologists digging up century-old privies to find collectibles. Chasing History was re­corded in an older part of Knoxville, TN. It is over an hour long and was produced by Ameri­can Digger Magazine, a bimonthly publication devoted to the hobby of recovering historical artifacts.

The private diggers have pictures of recovered human remains, glass bottles, handguns, coins, and other household items. The video answers questions like how to find a privy and takes you on a fascinating(?) tour of a privy dig.

Check out the privy diggers if you have an extra hour this weekend. If you have more than an hour, Google “outhouse pranks.”

And if you remember tipping occupied out­houses, like my old man says he did in the mining town of Crosby during the Depression, please, please, please send me your story.

Steve Fernlund
Steve Fernlund
Typically these “about me” pages include a list of academic achievements (I have none) and positions held (I have had many, but who really cares about those?) So, in the words of the late Admiral James Stockwell, “Who am I? Why am I here?” I’m well into my seventh decade on this blue planet we call home. I’m a pretty successful husband, father, and grandfather, at least in my humble opinion. My progeny may disagree. We have four children and five grandchildren. I spent most of my professional life in the freight business. At the tender age of 40, early retirement beckoned and we moved to Grand Marais. A year after we got here, we bought and operated the Cook County News Herald, a weekly newspaper in Grand Marais. A sharp learning curve for a dumb freight broker to become a newspaper editor and publisher. By 1999 the News Herald was an acquisition target for a rapidly consolidating media market. We sold our businesses and “retired” again, buying a winter retreat in Nevada. In the fall of 2016, we returned to Grand Marais and bought a house from old friends of ours on the ridge overlooking Lake Superior. They were able to move closer to family and their Mexico winter home. And we came home to what we say is our last house. I’m a strong believer in the value of local newspapers--both online and those you can wrap a fish in. I write a weekly column and a couple of feature stories for the Northshore Journal. I’m most interested in writing about the everyday lives of local people and reporting on issues of importance to them.
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