Opinion: A topic worth flushing

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By Ward Degler

For some of you, this will be a history lesson. For others, a trip down memory lane. I’m talking about toilets and their origins. There are two sides to this story: One for the plain folk and one for the well-to-do.

For the well-heeled, there was Mr. James Crapper, a British plumber who was so good at this trade he found himself commissioned to plumb Windsor Castle around 1850.

His claim to fame was an invention in the late 1700s by a man named Joseph Bramah. The idea, which had languished in obscurity, was the flush toilet.

Mr. Crapper knew a good thing when he saw it and set about installing one of the new facilities in the home of every lord and lady in the realm. He became so famous and his toilets so popular that he opened a store with a show room. And it wasn’t long before his merchandise assumed the name of Crappers.

For the plain folk, the story is more fanciful and is built around the talents of a traveling comedian and stage actor by the name of Charles Sale. Sale went by the name of Chic, and one of the characters he invented was an architect and builder by the name of Lem Putt – a man dedicated to building the nation’s best outdoor privies. His story is laid out in a small book by Chic Sale entitled, “The Specialist.”

Mr. Putt was quite specific in his design recommendations. He figured when designing something as central to daily life as a privy, it was best to solve problems before they became problems.

The best location to build a privy, he claimed, was next to the wood pile. That way when folks were finished with their business, they could bring a few pieces of wood back to the house. With any luck, an average family of four would fill up the wood box before supper.

He recommended a lean-to roof over a pitched roof because it provided two less corners for wasps to build nests in. He thought folks would rather not be bothered by angry wasps while focusing on other matters.

He also felt it was important to build the structure on four deep-set corner posts. He believed that would be especially appreciated around Halloween night when boys tended to have a little fun by pushing over their neighbor’s outhouse.

His last bit of advice was to paint the trim on the building a bright color. Made it easier to find at night, he said.

We’ve come a long way since then, but it’s nice to look back and see where we came from. My thanks to Barbara Velonis for bringing it to my attention.



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