In England they have urinals
In Paris bidets
But nowhere on earth
Has an outhouse like Gays
This ditty, posted on a billboard in Gays, Illinois, is not strictly true -- there are other multi-story privies on the planet. But there may be nowhere on earth with as much local pride in an outhouse as here.
This celebrity biffy even has its own official blue highway sign out on the county blacktop: "TOURIST ACTIVITIES: Historical Two Story Outhouse 1872." It's the toast of Moultrie County.
A double decker outhouse sounds absurd to a generation weaned on indoor plumbing. (Hah hah, peepul on floor 1 get poop on hed.) But this "skyscrapper" is no joke. Its upper- and lower-floor holes are discreetly placed on opposite sides, and a second, inset wall on the ground floor forms an invisible chute. Droppings from above plummet unobstructed and out of sight, although not out of earshot.
Samuel Gammill built the outhouse at the rear of his general store. There were apartments upstairs, and the second floor of the building connected to the second floor of the outhouse across a short ramp, giving 19th century tenants a private bathroom. The store was torn down in 1984, but the outhouse was carefully spared. Gays had been promoting it as a tourist attraction since the 1960s.
The outhouse stands today, on a patch of green grass in a little park. It's in fine shape, thanks to the late Gene Goodwin, president of Gays' village board, who championed its preservation. The park is named after Gene, according to its sign, "in memory of a devoted promoter of the Historical Two Story Outhouse." He reportedly wanted to build a stairway so that visitors could admire the view from the second floor, but that hasn't happened. The outhouse is padlocked to keep out vandals and those who might be tempted to fully experience this interactive structure.
The billboard with the outhouse poem stands at the center of the park, displaying press clippings and town notices under glass. These give voice to those who are not here to speak for the outhouse. "The young people," reads one, "hardly know anything about these little structures and have no understanding of the lifestyle that went with them." "Outhouses," asserts another, "were once an important part of everyday life and their historical contribution should be recorded for prosperity.[sic]"
An American flag on a pole flaps impressively, but it's part of a memorial for 21-year-old Cole Spencer, "American by Birth, Patriot by Choice," who died in Iraq.
A miniature version of the outhouse, designed to hold address cards to be filled out by visitors, is attached to the billboard. There were no cards left uncollected during our visit -- denying us access to what must be interesting outhouse mail, but proof of the continued fame of this beloved double dumper.