simple is beautiful
New York Daily Photo: Privy
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Sunday, 23 September 2007


In the East Village on 8th Street and Avenue C there is a window display of various archaeological findings divided into several themed sections - The Time to Relax, Setting the Table, What is a Privy?, and The History of Our Block. The artifacts in the displays are circa 1850. Between 1846 and 1850, over 1200 buildings were erected in this area (now known as Alphabet City) which became known as Kleindeutschland or "Little Germany" due to the influx of German immigrants. The photo is of several chamberpots in the display on privies. The caption reads "What is a privy? Before houses were hooked up to the city's water and sewer systems, people used outhouses or privies. In urban settings, the superstructure or little "house" used for privacy and seating sat on top of a shaft or pit, usually lined with stone, brick or wood. These shafts often survived beneath the ground. When privies filled up, scavengers were hired to clean them out. When privies were no longer used for their original purpose-typically when the building was hooked up to the city's sewer system-they were filled with trash and soil and covered over. As a result, privies contain archaeological treasures that provide clues to understanding everyday life in the past. Before indoor plumbing, people had two choices. They could use the backyard privy or the chamberpots kept under their beds. Each morning the pots would be emptied into the privy and they accidentally broke, no doubt, they would be dumped in, too."
I selected this group of artifacts because people seem fascinated by personal hygiene in other times and places. One of the most asked questions NASA gets involves bathroom use in space - there is even a book: How Do You Go To The Bathroom In Space? by astronauts William Pogue and John Glenn ...


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