While watching TV the other day I caught reference to something called “night soil” that I had never heard of before… so I looked it up.
I found that night soil is the soil recovered from places outhouses used to (or still currently) stand. During the period of time that outhouses were in use, they had to be cleaned frequently (or moved to a new location). Cleaning became more common as the ‘night soil’ was found to be valuable for crops. Even more valuable once they started to compost or treat it before application so that disease and worms stopped spreading through the food
It was supposedly called night soil because the workers collecting it would do so at night. Basically it was a polite reference to a product that may not always have been completely composted when it was collected.
As more and more houses got plumbing through the 1960′s, the pits were sometimes cleaned one last time…and sometimes they weren’t.
So, that led me to find that there is a whole culture in ‘privy digging’. Who knew there were so many young bottle collectors digging up old outhouse pits?
My first though was that its strange what people will do for an off chance at finding some old bottles. My second thought was that they must not find much since I had just read about how valuable ‘night soil’ was for a period in history. My third thought was wondering if they could still find any kernels of corn. Heh. Corn.
Well, it turns out even the emptied privy pits had a lot of bottles… someone picked out the bottles from the (sometimes soupy) mess when they emptied them, and frequently threw them back in. Plus of course, even when there was a market for night soil it doesn’t mean that a family didn’t still just dig a new hole and move the outhouse, particularly if they were in the country and lined their pit with wood rather than stone/brick.
Finally, let me just say for the record: It is crazy how many websites are dedicated to outhouses, pit toilets, and privy digging. Holy Crap (pun intended).