Outdoor Privy Used During Depression Era, Before Widespread Indoor Plumbing

Arizona man recalls the facilities when he was a child during the depresssion era, a privy complete with spiders

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The Biffy, better know as the Privy, was located about thirty yards from the back door of the dwelling. The standard size of this building was large enough to accommodate two holes and was commonly used during the depression era, before indoor plumbing. Occasionally a deluxe model was available on the more pretentious farms as there was a third hole which was at a lower level for small children.

The setup was. very tolerable in spring, summer and fall, but winter time was another story entirely. The first path to be shoveled after a snowstorm was to the Biffy, and I must say that trips to that little house were made only because of extreme necessity, with no lingering or loitering thereabouts.

Summertime had its hazards also. Several species of spiders had a tendency to seek out the dark recesses up under the seat. Probably ninety percent of these species were non-poisonous, but that did not contribute to one's feeling that the black widow spider might be hiding down there.

One amusing "spider" incident comes to mind and it happened as follows: my younger brother and I discovered a small hole on the outside just below seat level and large enough to accommodate a rather stiff pointed wire. One day we hid nearby and waited patiently until our older brother entered the Biffy. When we were certain he was seated comfortably, we sneaked up and stuck the wire through the hole, delivering a sufficiently hard jab with it. Such a commotion inside, and out he came, swearing he had been bitten by a spider. Of course we were laughing hysterically, which gave away what had actually happened and we all had a good laugh.

Indoor plumbing has all but eliminated the useful little building, and if I do occasionally see one in someone's backyard in the country, I wonder if it is still in use for its real intended purpose, or if it has been relegated by default to a spider factory.

Francis E. Hager
Phoenix, Arizona

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.