Toilet study reveales possible relative

By Karl Terry: Freedom Columnist

For about the last week I’ve been wanting to get my hands on the guy who first came up with the idea of bringing plumbing indoors. If I could’ve found him I would have enlisted his aid in removing a clog troubling the arteries of the Terry household plumbing.

Since I originally didn’t have time the day the problem was first noticed I called the plumber. Unfortunately they didn’t show up before the weekend and, with a Sunday afternoon to waste I threw myself into the job. After running my kinked up and aged drain snake down the laundry cleanout to its entire 15-foot length, I managed to get a meager amount of corn husk and corn silk.

My wife believes any kind of vegetable matter and many types of dishcloths and sponges are wonderful sacrificial offerings to the garbage disposal gods that live in our plumbing. We had recently cooked some corn-on-the-cob we had frozen back in the summer so I wasn’t surprised by my findings, just worried that I hadn’t managed to hook a dishcloth or heaven forbid, a corn cob.

A little research on the Internet tells me all I need to know, and more about the history of indoor plumbing. The ancient Romans were evidently the first to bring waterworks indoors with an elaborate system of aqueducts that fed bathhouses all over the city.

In America, Andrew Jackson was the first president to have indoor plumbing in the White House. Many homes of wealthy Americans had indoor plumbing and toilets before Jackson got the first White House throne. It is said that Thomas Jefferson built several indoor privies that slaves were charged with emptying through a sort of dumb-waiter contraption.

Ever since the game Trivial Pursuit came out in the 1980s I have assumed that Sir Thomas Crapper was the inventor of the indoor john. But evidently that was one of those answers the game’s maker got wrong (there’s a whole list of them on the Internet). Crapper improved water closet design and function but he didn’t invent the contraption.

Evidently one of my relatives (mother’s side), Alexander Cummings, received the first U.S. patent for a flushing toilet in 1775. I was unaware of this until I found it on the Internet. I’m not sure of my exact lineage to this man though and have to bring the link into question a bit.

You see the only outhouse I got the chance to regularly avail myself of growing up was at my grandfather Cummings’ place. Yes, in the 1960s there was still a chamber pot underneath the bed in my grandparent’s house and an old wooden outhouse a short distance from the back door. Evidently great-uncle (or whatever) Alex hadn’t bothered to share the technology.

I know the experience had a profound effect on my mother though because she has one of her two (indoor) bathrooms completely decorated in outhouse art, rugs and towels.

That old wooden outhouse was a scary place, especially after dark, the sort of thing nightmares were made of. My plumbing may be causing a few headaches and a little pain in the wallet right now, but I don’t want to go back to the days of a No. 2 washtub in the kitchen for bathing and taking a buddy along to the privy after dark.

Mercy, a young boy might fall right into one of those things.