The Outhouses Of Bodie Ghost Town

I always listen for it.  The sound of water running, running, running in the house.  Nine times out of ten it means that one of the toilets has an issue.  There are two Kohler toilets in my house that always seem to have a problem.  The latest has been a corroded flapper that needed replacing in both toilets simultaneously.

Leaning Outhouse. Copyright Merilee Mitchell

The other four toilets have a flush that’s so loud it could wake the dead.  My youngest son was terrified to flush the toilet in his bathroom when he was little.  He was afraid it would suck him down into a void of terror.  I will admit, the flush is so powerful it’s startling.  You have to push down the flusher and then run out of the room quickly before the “WHOOSH!!!” assaults you.

Outhouse. Copyright Merilee Mitchell

When I travel in the desert, I have my routine rest stops I prefer to use.  Ones that are clean and where I don’t feel like I’m going to catch a disease.  But sometimes they aren’t that easy to find.  There are some areas where they only have pit toilets like at many of the restrooms in Death Valley National Park.  Mostly they are fairly clean but some I avoid, knowing what awaits me inside.

Outhouse Interior 4. Copyright Merilee Mitchell

There is something creepy about using pit toilets.  They are a more modern version of the outhouses of a time long past, but even though they aren’t a wooden shack with a carved out seat, there is something psychologically disturbing about them.  At least for me.  Maybe it’s the knowing that there is a black hole underneath where there might be something sinister waiting to pull you down inside.

Leaning Outhouse 2. Copyright Merilee Mitchell

I’m not sure if I’ve watched one too many Hitchcock and David Lynch movies, but I have this strange thought or fear of public restrooms, rest stops and pit toilets.  Especially if they are alone out in the middle of nowhere.  I walk in slowly and then carefully open the stall door, peeking inside and wondering if I might find a dead body.  I don’t know if I saw this in a movie once as a child, or what, but it actually would make a great scene in a horror flick.

Leaning Outhouse 3. Copyright Merilee MitchellIt makes me laugh at myself and as I drive away and I think, “I really ought to write a screenplay for a horror movie.  This is good stuff.”  A therapist could have a field day with me.

Outhouse With Building. Copyright Merilee Mitchell

Long before there were public rest stops and leaking toilets in homes, people had outhouses.  Some of the best-preserved outhouses I’ve seen from the early days are the ones at Bodie Ghost Town.  They’re everywhere behind houses and barns.  Some stand alone, leaning and propped up with a board so they don’t fall over and disintegrate.  I think they’re fascinating.  They are beautiful, really, in their own way, with carefully carved-out holes in the seats.

Outhouse Interior 5. Copyright Merilee Mitchell

There are some that are side-by-side and others with double or even triple holes.  Which makes me wonder if people would go into the outhouse together to do their business, chatting about this and that, the weather, etc., just like we do when we go into a restroom with our friend, except we have the privacy of our own stall.  I cannot imagine sitting with someone right next me in an outhouse.

Outhouse Interior. Copyright Merilee Mitchell

I think what strikes me the most when I look at these old outhouses is the fact that the people who used them had to do so no matter what the weather.  If there was a blizzard outside, well, you still had go wander out into the freezing snow to go to the bathroom.  They didn’t have the ease of just walking into the bathroom inside the house.  There was no bathroom.  They used the outhouse.

Outhouse Interior 3. Copyright Merilee Mitchell

Then I think about the women in all of that clothing they wore in the 1800’s.  Skirts and petticoats.  Bloomers.  They had to deal with their clothing in order to sit down on that wooden seat.  And there really wasn’t a lot of privacy.  Your next door neighbor could see when you went outside to use the outhouse.  It was public information.  You couldn’t hide inside your own bathroom in privacy. Unless, of course, you wanted to use a chamber pot in the house, but chamber pots are a whole other story we won’t go into.

Outhouse Interior 2. Copyright Merilee Mitchell

It makes me realize just how spoiled we really are with indoor plumbing and bathrooms.  We debate over whether or not the toilet paper should be hung over or under.  Have arguments about men not putting the seat down.  We have toilet bowl cleaners, deodorizers and sanitizers.  We are a society that is paranoid about the germs on toilets.  I don’t think that was a concern for the people who once lived in Bodie Ghost Town.

Double Outhouse. Copyright Merilee Mitchell

The next time I hear the tell-tale sound of water running, running, running in my house and I know it’s once again one of the Kohler toilets having an issue I’ll just remember the outhouses at Bodie.  I’ll be thankful for my indoor toilet where I know I can have privacy and I don’t have to worry about the neighbors watching me walk to and from the outhouse.   And I don’t have to get wet if it’s raining.

 

 

 

 

101 thoughts

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  2. My dad remembers having to use one of these nearly all winter one year – in Michigan at that. At least there were no bugs. I couldn’t have survived that. Like you, I’m terrified of outdoor toilets, mostly because they are dark and smelly. College taught me that if the lights in the bathroom are low, then they must be hiding something.

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    • Thank you so much! They just struck me, you know? The last time I was there. Well, every time I’ve been there, actually. There are so many outhouses. And in all different levels of deterioration. That’s the thing about Bodie that I love. You can get a real feeling for what life was like because so much of it has been preserved in a state of arrested decay. It’s one of my favorite places.

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    • I like the underground nature of everything. The backstory, what lies underneath the floor boards, behind closed doors. The truth that no one else really wants to look at 😉

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  4. Are you sure those toilets aren’t why it’s called “Bodie ‘Ghost’ Town?” lol jk Great Read!! Awesome pics, too!

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  5. Lovely post, thank you for honoring the noble “Long Drop” I grew up with a outdoor bog, I thought it nasty to shit in the house like rich people did. The compostable ones are odor free and very nice. In the deep cold, you just do not linger.

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  6. Toilets in the US are so noisy, it’s any wonder they scare children!

    I grew up having to use outhouses, though by that time most of them were actually plumbed with a regular toilet in them. Being Australian, we have the very real danger of snakes and spiders in the outhouse. I was so terrified to go to the loo when I was a kid.

    One time when I was six I was in a hurry and stepped into our outside toilet (which was sunken a little bit compared to the level of ground outside) and had dropped my pants and sat down before I realised an enormous blue tongue lizard was in there with me. To a six year old, a blue tongue lizard seems like a dinosaur. I still remember screaming for my mother and her yelling back “If you want me, come and get me, don’t yell!” Helpful!!

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  7. i love how you bridged your two stories. I am a therapist and i would have a field day with you – not for the reason you may have jested about – but rather, because of your peculiar but poignant insights

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  8. Thats A Great story. I also Had that Fear especially when its at Night and the toilet’s hole is Like brittle and the area seems Like it wanna fall. The trickling of urine down Th hole sometimes, You would listen and feel as if the urine was swallowed up by something that is Just beneath the hole. That Fear when You feel that what You excreted hasn’t actually hit the floor! I was like that in my early Days.

    Thanks for bringing Up this story. Soo creative
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