Mahaffie Blog Post #4 by Maddy Hajer

Since my last blog post, I’ve wrapped up the acquisition of all the artifacts from the Mahaffie icehouse dig of 2017. The next project I am currently working on is a set of panels for a new outhouse archaeology exhibit in the backyard of the Mahaffie farmhouse. The outhouse currently standing is a reproduction. Since there is no record of what the Mahaffie outhouses looked like and the Mahaffie outhouses have never been found, the museum decided to create a basic outhouse structure that may have been similar to other prairie outhouses of the mid-1800s. In saying this, the panels I’m  writing for the exhibit will be about outhouses in general as well as their importance to historians. Archaeologists also benefit from studying outhouse dig sites. Outhouses were not only used as bathrooms, but they usually doubled up as trash cans. Since outhouses were moved every few years for the sake of safety and hygiene, the amount of trash pile up in a given outhouse area is astounding. The “rash” left behind by occupants often gives us clues to the identities of the outhouse users, their lifestyles, and the regional culture that they were a part of. These items of trash are now considered artifacts by the archaeologists at a dig site. Historians then take these artifacts to analyze them. 

Artifact analysis is a critical part of the post- dig process and when conducting historical research. Analysis of artifacts continues to influence the way in which we interpret history. Throughout the country, outhouse dig sites have revealed common artifacts like combs, buttons, and bottle glass to name just a few examples. All these items refer to the daily use of said items by the object’s owner. They show the popularity of unisex outhouses as well as the high number of alcoholics that lived undiagnosed in the 1800s. One can see all too well people with the urge to drink sneaking out to the outhouse where they knew  no one would disturb them. Just as men drank heavily, women were just as subject to the effects of alcoholism but because drinking excessively was considered inappropriate for females, it is natural to ponder whether it is equally possible that the remains of bottle glass were left behind by women or men. 

Looking at the actual reproduction outhouse puts into perspective the way of life the prairie inhabitants as well as stagecoach travelers on the various trails out west. The reproduction has two toilet seats instead of one, likely making it bigger than the Mahaffie outhouses actually were. But again, as we have no proof to say one way or the other, having two seats may have been the reality, especially with all the stagecoach traffic passing through. When one considers the size of the outhouse, I as a woman wonder how females wearing hoop skirts could fit into the two-seater reproduction, let alone a one-seater that probably would have been more realistic! These are but a few of the details I am adding in the exhibit panels and I am excited to see where my research will go from here. 

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