Flushed and found Outhouse dig at Moravian Church Square

By on March 6, 2013

By: CORY VAN BROOKHOVEN Record Express Correspondent, Staff Writer

This month’s story is a follow-up to what I wrote back in November on the privy, which for many years stood behind the Grosh house situated along Moravian Church Square in Lititz.

After careful consideration, it was decided by the Moravian Archives Committee to hire a professional “privy digger” to find out what artifacts may lie beneath the three-seat outhouse, which was recently torn down with plans to rebuild it as a tourist attraction.

A few Saturday mornings ago, several archives members, along with yours truly, braved the bitter cold air in order to observe privy digger Pete Kirk and his two assistants, Matt Waholek and Chris Rowell, break ground and begin to dig downward. Although the top layer of soil was very hard due to the cold, after a few inches, the earth began to soften and digging became much easier.

A few moments went by as we were all on the edge of our seats waiting for the first item to be uncovered. Kirk assured us that the darker colored soil that was beginning to be dug up several inches down had long turned to dirt many years ago, and hence provided no cause for alarm or sanitation concerns.

After a few minutes, treasures started to see the light of day. A totally intact stoneware chamber pot — make that two — were uncovered by the diggers in front of the small audience of observers. One was found right after the other one, and both were in perfect shape no less. In addition, smaller bits and pieces of cups, saucers, and plates were also found. After a few more minutes, more items surfaced including the likes of two mason jars, pieces of an antique cobalt blue bone dish, an enamel ware tin pail, and several additional broken pieces of old dishware were recovered at the site.

While Pete Kirk discovered find after find in the established hole, the two other experts began probing around the property with a long aluminum rod. This special tool, which is about four feet in length, can be easily pushed down into the ground in an effort to locate any other old outhouses that might be in the general vicinity. The tell-tale signs of ash on the end of the rod once it is pulled back to the surface indicates that a privy most likely occupied that space. After a few moments, ash was discovered about 10 feet to the left of the location of the known privy. Once this second privy was pinpointed, a new dig was under way immediately.

After digging several feet down, treasures began to surface from this location as well. Items like an early tortoise shell comb and a double ended bone tooth brush were the highlights from this site. Like the first hole, several broken pieces of early kitchen ware and clay pot fragments were also uncovered. After studying the items from this hole, it was determined that this second privy was even older than the first.

Additional research is underway by members of the Archives committee in an effort to further study and date all of the items unearthed that day.

Two weeks after the dig, Pete Kirk came back to Lititz on Feb.16 to give a talk to the public at the Lititz Public Library. With the cleaned up items from the Moravian privy dig in tow, he also brought along a slide show and additional finds from prior digs he was on in months past. To a packed capacity audience, Kirk, a Holtwood native, explained that he is a history junkie who was also a diver at one time, which was what originally started him in the hobby. Being a privy digger for over three years, this fascination and curiosity has taken him up and down the East coast many times. Day long digs in Baltimore, New York state, and Philadelphia are just some of the places where he has dug over the years.

He explained that many times, pits can be up to 24 feet deep. He explained that most of the privies around Lancaster County however, are 10 feet deep or less. Both Moravian holes for example, were only four feet deep and therefore only required two to three hours to excavate. He further explained that if a home was built before 1910, it most likely had a privy located somewhere on the property and how most were either wood lined, stone lined, or brick lined; and were often times filled with ash before the family moved away. If the family was wealthy, they had the luxury to pay someone to clean it out every few years. However, for the normal family, removal of the contents at the bottom of an outhouse only took place every 10-15 years.

Items like glass bottles, broken household items, old toys, marbles, milk bottles, pipes, metal objects, and so much more that were discarded down the hole of an outhouse now await being rediscovered years later by privy diggers across America. Although this hobby may seems “gross” to some, to most others its a wonderful and fascinating way to discover history. More PRIVY DIG, page A3