Ghosts of Main Street: The Ghosts in the backyard

April 11, 2019

By Julie Traynor

At one time this week’s ghosts were everywhere people settled. They were on farms and in cities and villages alike. They could be quite individual in style; some built to accommodate more than one person at a time. There were larger ones available for public use and some well known ones were even two stories tall. Every home and business had one tucked away somewhere. Again some were larger, some not so. Our ghosts’ appearance may have changed but its function did not.

This photo, taken from atop the Corwin Building in 1908, prominently features the outhouse behind what is now the Township Hall, at the center of the photograph. Also seen is the outhouse behind what was the Fuller house, now belonging to Jim Lithen. All in all and easily recognizable, there are five outhouses in the full photograph. The photo from the same perspective but facing north features six easily seen outhouses.   

Because our ghosts were necessary and everywhere, they became rather invisible and simply part of the landscape. If your home has been a resident on its location for at least 100 years, odds are you have one of these ghosts, or the remnants of one, in your own backyard.

This week’s ghost is the unsung hero of any civilized and settled place; this week we remember the lonely outhouse. In searching through old photos we found that this necessary outbuilding appears, and in numbers, in many more old photos than we imagined. They must have been invisible to the photographer as well. In a number of photos taken in the years around 1910, the height of the picture postcard era, we find Marion’s outhouses most prominent, in some instances, front and center.

Mrs. M. Alice Chapin proudly posed in her horse and buggy alongside her lovely home on Pickard Street in 1909. Seen in this photo is her well-kept outhouse. 

In Marion’s early years the citizenry was liberal with its use of river as a sewer. In spite of the growing use of septic tanks too many sewer lines still found their way to the river along its course through town. This was the status quo for many years. Into the 1950’s outhouses were still seen and used although an ordinance was passed in 1947 banning the practice.

A well known and often told story in its time was that of Charlie Mobley, who, when working at the telephone office located above the Marion Bank, lost his dentures in the plumbing and retrieved them later at the mouth of a large drain at the river, behind Main Street and the then depot.

Marion had a long and uphill battle establishing its sewer system which began operation in the summer of 1974. Marionites had until July 1976 to hook up to the system…and to turn that old outhouse into a place to store the shovel and rake.    

These are the outhouses of the Brooks and Lowry families. They sat along the alley which ran between their houses. These outhouses had a view of Main Street. 

Outhouses or the need for them will never go away. Today outhouses are sleek, self-contained fiberglass pods and highly efficient at their purpose.

We do not depend upon them for daily use. Today they are often seen traveling in groups; aboard large trailers, traveling behind a truck. All dressed in the same color and bearing a logo, they go events both large and small; a concert, fair or family reunion. And they attend all of the summer festivals across the state. Think about it. Today’s port-a-potty really is the Cadillac of outhouses.

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