Thursday, February 26, 2009

What Does the Half-moon on the Outhouse Door Mean?

“What does the half-moon on the outhouse door mean?” Since the Newton Falls Public Library catalog had no books specifically about outhouses, the staff began to look other places. Books on inventions, such as Eureka! An Illustrated History of Inventions from the Wheel to the Computer, The History of Invention: from stone axes to silicon chips by Trevor I. Williams, and Oh, Yuck: the encyclopedia of everything nasty by Joy Masoff, yielded a great deal of information about toilets. In the late 16th century, Sir John Harrington installed a water closet in his home which could be flushed from an overhead tank. Oh, Yuck [p.178] described how reading in the bathroom began, and takes the reader back to the 1700s when American colonists built outhouses over large buckets or pits. No information was given on the meaning of the half-moon. Even Foxfire 11, in its chapter The Old Homeplace, lists the hog scaler, the cornhouse, and the sorghum furnace, but not the outhouse.

The article The Outrageous Outhouse by Joe Curreri and Therese Nolan in
Antiques & Collecting Magazine, May 2005 addresses this question. The cut outs in the doors served as ventilators, let in light and often a much needed draft as there were usually no windows. As few people could read, the crescent moon was for the ladies and the masculine star was for the men.

An online search revealed the website, Outhouse Moon [http://www.blogger.com/www.tumbleweedcrossing.net/OuthouseMoon] with answers to an earlier Yahoo search. The three answers included discussed the crescent moon for women and the star for men. In the third answer paraphrased from Nature Calls: The History, Lore and Charm of Outhouses by Dottie Booth, it says that “the moon symbol comes from the ancient symbol for femininity, Luna. . . Folklore tells us that women took better care of their outhouses, hence, more survived, and the moon became a lasting symbol associated with the outhouse. One reason women's outhouses outlasted men's involved porcupines chewing on the seats of men's outhouses (for the salt found in urine on the seat).” At this site there is also information about an Outhouse Preservation Society.

The Smoking Mountain News Archives/Mountain Voices, February 14, 2001 [http://www.blogger.com/www.smokymountainnews.com/issues/2_01/2_14_01/back_then.shtml] quotes the book, The Vanishing American Outhouse: a history of country plumbing by Ronald Barlow. Barlow agrees that the half-moon symbolized the ladies room, “while a sunburst pattern indicated male use. While some had circles, hearts, diamonds, triangles, and V-shaped notches mirroring those on early barns and outbuildings.”

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