The image below was taken last week during a morning of fickle weather. For several hours it alternated between stormy and foggy with the ocean blowing air into the village that felt damper than a boat sponge. The turbulence is standard fare in May and is caused by warmer morning temperatures and their ongoing argument with the chilly ocean.
You’re looking at an unceremonious outhouse located at the historic Mulford Farm in East Hampton Village which I photographed in the fog.
Interestingly, a bit of research has uncovered a wealth of information about outhouses. I was surprised to read that they’ve been called biffies – a term which may have had its origin with Browning Ferris Industries, a waste collection company (with a conspicuous logo) which once serviced portable toilets. Long ago, Girl Scouts put another spin on it when a biffy became a bathroom in the forest for you. Various campers have also employed the term kybo. This is thought to have originated in Vermont where Kybo Coffee cans were once filled with lyme and placed inside the structures to keep the odors to a minimum. I would’ve loved to have visited one of those north woods shacks with a Kybo can, especially in the moonlight beneath a silhouette of spruce.
Less frequently the outhouse has been referred to as a backhouse, and in Australia, they’re known as dunnies. In New Zealand you might call them long drops.
Outhouses originated in Europe over 500 years ago which means they’ve been around for centuries. During the depression, WPA carpenters were hired by the government to build them in rural areas. You don’t hear about that in eighth grade American history. One wonders if any of those New Deal outhouses are still in service today?
Where I grew up on the west Coast of Florida some of my classmates lived in homes with privies near the woods. Whenever I visited these places I was awestruck. To a transplanted New Yorker in elementary school, having an outhouse on the property was evidence of very serious credentials. These friends of mine were not living in the rubber stamped homes popping up elsewhere in Florida (such as the one I lived in) and they didn’t come from the wealthiest families. It didn’t matter. Their dwellings had abundant wealth of character.
Outhouses at Mulford Farm would’ve been constructed during colonial times. It was during those years when the crescent moon cutout was first employed. The ones with crescents were for women and ones with stars were for men. I was truly amazed to discover this and it raises an obvious question. Why did the star fall out of fashion? It’s been theorized that men let their privies fall into such horrible states of disrepair that they faded out, becoming rotted piles of wood in forgotten rural places.
It’s the feminine crescent cutout which has stood the test of time.