Homage to the outhouse

Oliver Schaefer demonstrates the only way to enter the NASCAR outhouse, which includes a television inside, Oct. 10 The Associated Press

Oliver Schaefer demonstrates the only way to enter the NASCAR outhouse, which includes a television inside, Oct. 10 The Associated Press

By The Associated Press

GREENVILLE – To Ollie Schaefer, the hassle stank – sojourning as a farm kid more than a half century ago to the outhouse, weathering blowing snow or bitter cold just to take care of business “like a scene from the Old West.”

But what’s happened since to those old-school privies, once staples of American necessity, doesn’t sit well with the 67-year-old Schaefer.

Convinced people seem to be forgetting about the rustic repositories where in darker days folks used corncobs in place of toilet paper, Schaefer planned one big ode to the commode. Like-minded folks and the curious came to this town of some 7,000, about 50 miles east of St. Louis, for the inaugural “Outhouse Festival and Auction” on Saturday.

“We feel it’s got potential,” he says of the festival that he wants to make a yearly tradition on the 57 acres that includes the American Farm Heritage Museum, a menagerie of yesteryear’s farm equipment. “We’re gonna give it a shot next year, no matter what.”

Blending kitsch with carnival, the event on property along Interstate 70 drew attention to things fading from the farm scene, including the wooden backhouses of the boondocks.

There was a display of the museum’s collection of farm items – everything from rusty plows to a 1940s combine and 1950s-era tractors resembling the bouncy beasts Oliver Douglas may have favored on television’s “Green Acres.”

But Schaefer wanted the spotlight squarely on outhouses, and mapped out a festival he hoped would draw 1,000 people.

“Any more than that and we’ll be tickled to death,” he says.

There was a trinket giveaway for correct answers to outhouse trivia.

Anyone know why some outhouses had a crescent moon on the door while others had stars or sunbursts? The moon – an ancient symbol for Luna, meaning womanhood – denoted an outhouse for women, the star for men. Both symbols also were handy in letting in moonlight during midnight potty breaks.

Know why using lanterns to guide you might not be such a bright thing? Think gas.

Schaefer’s shindig also included “outhouse basketball,” with competitors driving lawn tractors or golf carts while shooting rolls of toilet paper into lidded, five-gallon buckets serving as toilet stools.

He also planned an outhouse-stuffing contest, the kind of thing made famous by clowns with a Volkswagen.

And there was no shortage of outhouses.

One fashioned of metal and rivets looks like a NASCAR vehicle and is accessed by climbing through a window, its interior complete with space for a television set. There will be a “jailbird outhouse,” set off by iron bars in the door, perhaps fitting in this town that’s home to a federal prison.

Schaefer’s daughter, Sherry Schaefer, the festival’s brainchild, has built a cedar-sided privy she thought “should be the Cadillac of outhouses there.” She’s even crafted one to look like a grain bin – round with a conical roof, the door sporting corn kernels between its double panes of glass.

Scoping out a camouflaged outhouse for hunting? You can find it here.

“Our goal is to sell these things and make some money,” perhaps $500 each for outhouses that can be used for anything from storage to shanties for children waiting for a school bus to, well, their true purpose, Sherry Schaefer said.

When it comes to the festival, Sherry Schaefer says, “people won’t understand it until they get there.”

“Where else can you buy an outhouse?” she says. “It’s just a part of history. You don’t want to relive it, but you don’t want to forget it.”