West: Outhouse claim to fame


Everybody has some sort of claim to fame. One of mine was having a photo of my grandparents’ outhouse near Short Mountain shared on the famous Ralph Emery Show.

Yep, it was a classic moment … one that some of my relatives recollect with considerable laughter.

Back in the days when local TV stations provided real, locally-produced entertainment programming, Ralph was an early morning fixture on old WSM-Channel 4. They had great performers like Tex Ritter, Kris Kristofferson in addition to an assortment of crazy antics.

I digress, but I have to mention my favorite cast member, the late Norm Ray. Norm played sax in the house band, but was equally well known for his antics often assisted by Bill Hall, who emerged as Channel 4's top weatherman. Heck, the show's cast even included straight out of college Robin Roberts, who now co-anchors "Good Morning America" on ABC.

One of the absolutely greatest things about the show was the annual "Great American Outhouse" races.

They were fantastic and hilarious too with a fun-loving sense of mock seriousness and even featured local celebrities like Bill Boner, the then mayor of Nashville.

Well anyway, the Ralph Emery Show was focused on outhouses, so to speak.

I just happened to shoot a photo of my grandparents’ outhouse and it was used as a feature in a local newspaper. It was just a basic, black and white photo.

A few days later, that photo popped up on the Ralph Emery Show. It was a moment of glory! The next thing you know, somebody wrote a poem about it. And an artist even did a sketch of it. All of which were broadcast on Channel 4. Wow!

I didn't make a dime off of it, but that photo still pops up every once in a while. I still have a copy or two of it …. somewhere.

What brought it to mind, was the recent announcement that the outhouse decorating contest is coming back to Good Ole Days.

While it might not be as outrageous as an actual race, it should still be fun.

The sponsors of the event have a few specific rules with the chief one is "be creative."

In the olden days, outhouses often had a crescent moon or star on the door or just above. Those cutouts date back to Colonial times. The crescent moon was the symbol for women while the star cutout was for men.

My grandparent’s outhouse didn't have a symbol cut in the door. It was provided for on a first come, first served basis.

Back in the 1930s, the WPA (Works Progress Administration) had teams of outhouse builders who built new, study outhouses at Cannon County's rural schools like Leoni.

Word has it that they were dee-luxe, maybe even creative.

And besides being creative, the contest rules specify that the outhouses must have at least three sides. I suppose that means a door isn’t mandatory.

While my experience is limited, I always heard that some outhouse users prefered an “open-door” policy during hot, stinky summer months.

The contest also allows some creativity when it comes to toilet paper.

At least they had to be better than some of the substitutes once used for toilet tissue. The ol' Sears catalog was a preferred product. Most anything was better than corncobs, which differed in quality depending on the color red vs. white. (Courier columnist Dan Whittle can explain the difference.)

There’s one contest rule I just can’t understand. That’s Number 3 ... outhouse must have a toilet seat.

Back in the day, the seat was just a hole in a board which was preferably smooth and splinter free.

Many outhouses had at least two holes. One was larger and for adults and the other was smaller and intended for children. ‘Butt’ I’m not telling you anything you don’t already know.

So just in case you have never seen one, check out the outhouse decorating contest at Good Ole Days, May 17 and 18. And no, Dan Whittle, you can't use them.

See you there!