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SPOTLIGHT
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Flushing away some old-timey mischief

Published on -10/30/2013, 10:10 AM

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When modern flush toilets eliminated the outhouses, it killed a lot of Halloween fun.

There was a time when these 4-by-8-foot wooden buildings stood proudly out behind everyone's home. That also was the era when mischievous youngsters overturned all the outhouses they could find at Halloween time -- whether they were occupied or not.

Luckily for civilization, a wave of political correctness turned Halloween into a genteel evening of mild tricks that now are threatened by cute kids who had been given candy so they wouldn't be mean.

They don't even know the meaning of the word.

Some of us never cared for Halloween. Who can get excited over ugly ghosts and goblins and vampires and skeletons?

For years our parents and their little tots were lured by real devilment but then, fortunately corporate America took over and filled our Halloweens with millions of kiddie costumes and billions of pieces of candy.

Also, our society improved. The power lines were strung all across rural America, so we gained running water, and indoor plumbing eliminated the need for outdoor toilets. Rural residents now had indoor lighting and bath rooms, even though it was only the 1950s.

I can see it now, that old-time scene. The morning after Halloween at Lebanon, we drove past the high school and gasped in amazement at the tableau on the school's front lawn: A cow tied to a tree near the principal's office; a dirty wooden outhouse setting by the front door; rusty farm implements parked here and there; maybe a pumpkin or two.

Truly a view for Norman Rockwell's America.

But outdoor restrooms were the featured event. One year, a neighbor swore that no one would turn over his outhouse. He planted fence posts at the corners and wrapped chains around to hold the little building in place. Then he warned everyone to stay away.

That was a challenge for the high school boys -- and his outhouse was the first to go down.

Thankfully, today's young people probably don't remember their parents' and grandparents' outhouses. These little buildings were equipped with wooden seats into which a large hole and a smaller hole had been cut as toilet seats. Nearby was a Sears & Roebuck catalog which served as toilet paper. Yes, those were the real Good Old Days.

There was some justice back then, too. A couple of Lebanon High School boys sneaked down the alley west of Main Street, pushed over an outhouse and ran away gleefully. They hadn't gone far before the night watchman stepped out of the shadows, stopped them and ordered that they set this building back right side up. That wasn't nearly as much fun.

As with many things in the Good Old Days, the world has progressed and become more civilized, at least for creature comforts. Now we treat the children with candy and they seem to enjoy their loot. That leaves us with a safe and sane Halloween night, and gives us more time to complain about the long shopping period between Thanksgiving and Christmas.

Darrel Miller lives near Downs in rural Osborne County and is a retired weekly newspaper editor.

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