Privacy in the Outhouse

A red, metal flag signaled when outhouse was open for use.

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The best thing about Grandma's outhouse was the red metal flag like the one on rural mailboxes. My mother explained that when Grandma's rather large family was growing up they used to put the flag down before they went in, and put it back up when they came out. This was to show when the outhouse was in use and prevent any invasion of privacy. Of course at my age I didn't have much privacy so the idea of the red flag was very appealing, and I used it every time. Once, I recall, I became too interested in looking at the pictures on the bathroom tissue (an old mail order catalog) and was absent so long that my mother came looking for me. I became upset because she had opened the door on me when the red flag was down and had invaded my privacy. 

Then, one Sunday afternoon in late summer, Grandpa had something to show us. It was some rattles from a rattlesnake he had killed a few days earlier. That was enough to make my hair stand on end, but then my dad asked where he had killed it. Of all places, Grandpa said it had been in front of the outhouse! In that one awful moment my infatuation with the outhouse was gone forever. After that I set the world speed record going to and from the outhouse, and I didn't even stop to put the red flag down.

Penny M. Smith
Oberlin, Kansas


Back in 1955 a call went out from the editors of the then Capper’s Weekly asking for readers to send in articles on true pioneers. Hundreds of letters came pouring in from early settlers and their children, many now in their 80s and 90s, and from grandchildren of settlers, all with tales to tell. So many articles were received that a decision was made to create a book, and in 1956, the first My Folks title – My Folks Came in a Covered Wagon – hit the shelves. Nine other books have since been published in the My Folks series, all filled to the brim with true tales from Capper’s readers, and we are proud to make those stories available to our growing online community.