The outhouse — referred to in polite company as the privy — is one of America’s camp icons. While typically not glamorous, these outdoor facilities are a tolerated necessity at hunting and summer camps. And for those of us who have used one (or more), it’s evident that each has character and personality that reflect its owner(s).
So when we were considering what to do to try to top the Bangor Daily News Original Ice Shack Contest that was held last winter, a contest featuring Maine’s iconic camp fixtures only seemed natural. We’re not trying to be gross or inappropriate, but rather we’d like to honor these facilities and showcase some of the best and most creative outhouses our readers have to offer — so get your entries ready for the Bangor Daily News Original Outhouse Contest sponsored by Whitten’s 2-Way Service Inc. of Brewer and 304 Stillwater Avenue Furniture in Bangor.
Not only was our outhouse a necessity, but stories about our Concord Pond camp’s facility are familiar tales from my childhood — and I’m sure many of you have a few to tell, too.
There’s the one that’s been passed down over the years about the time my cousin was sneaking a cigarette and dropped it down one of the holes and caught the luxurious two-seater on fire.
My grandfather (Barpie to us) also used to escape to the outhouse for some quiet time without children to pester him, and it was perfectly normal to hear him reading poetry aloud from his wooden throne. A favorite he used to quote from was “The Passing of the Backhouse,” believed to be written by James Whitcomb Riley, although there is some dispute.
The first few lines read:
When memory keeps me company and moves to smiles and tears,
A weather-beaten object looms through the mist of years.
Behind the house and barn it stood, a half a mile or more.
And hurrying feet a path had made straight to its swinging door.
Its architecture was a type of simple classic art.
But in the tragedy of life it played a leading part …
Then there was the time that my mom and I locked my dad outside the outhouse with a skunk that was out for an evening stroll. Dad used to walk us out back with a flashlight right before we went to bed to make one last “nature call,” and as mom and I sat side-by-side on the two-seater, we heard him say, “Oh [expletive], a skunk.”
Mom immediately held the door shut tightly, leaving Dad outside to fend for himself while we were safe inside with an aroma that I’m not sure was much better than the skunk’s spray would have been. Fortunately for all of us, the skunk wandered off without incident.
Over time, what used to be a simple one-door wooden structure with two “seats” inside has transformed. I was surprised last summer to return to the rustic camp where I spent so many summer days jigging for frogs, fishing, picking blueberries, learning to paddle a canoe and swimming ‘til I turned into a prune to find the simple two-seater had been replaced by a glamorous NASCAR-themed outdoor restroom. The door had been painted as if it were a checkered flag and the inside decked out with posters, pennants and Matchbox cars of favorite racers. The “race” order of the cars changes depending on who last used the outhouse.
And while these outdoor facilities are familiar at camp, we must remember that they used to be a common outbuilding at homes across the country before plumbing and electricity gave us grand indoor facilities.
They also have become a source of community fun with outhouse races a common activity at some local fairs and events. The structures typically are put on skis or wheels and raced down a track (usually a blocked-off roadway).
But what we’re interested in is what you have to offer. Are you endowed with a prize-winning privy? This is your chance to showcase your little palace, claim bragging rights and take home a special trophy created by Atlantic Awards in Bangor. If you win, you’ll most definitely want to clear a space on the mantel (or in your outhouse) to show off the coveted trophy that’s topped with a very special golden outhouse — complete with half-moon cutout on the door. There’s also gift sets from Poo Pourri bathroom sprays.
Here’s what we’re asking you to do: Send us 1-4 color photos of your outhouse. Submit your entry online at bdn.to/out; if you don’t have access to a computer, you can mail your entry to Bangor Daily News Original Outhouse Contest, 491 Main St., Bangor 04401. You may also drop it off at the Buck Street entrance at our main office at 491 Main St. from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday-Friday. The deadline for entries to arrive by mail or be delivered in person is noon Monday, Aug. 23.
We also want to hear about what makes your outhouse outstanding, so be sure to include a short description along with your pictures. While there aren’t any categories, our panel of judges want to be wowed with your creativity — or perhaps it’s the history behind your privy that makes it special. Be sure to check out the gallery of entries on the website, and we’ll occasionally run a photo or two in the print edition of an entry that intrigues us.
Be sure to include with your entry your full name, address, phone number, email address and location of your outhouse. One entry per person. Prizes will be awarded for first, second and third places; winners will be notified by phone and-or email. All finalists will be announced in the Saturday, Aug. 27, edition of the Bangor Daily News and at the American Folk Festival on the Bangor Waterfront.