Edit ModuleEdit ModuleShow Tags
Edit ModuleShow Tags

Pittsburgh Potty



I’ll never forget it—ever.  There. In the middle of my grandmother’s basement laundry room in her Bridgeville home, a home she shared with my grandfather until about a decade ago.

There. With no walls surrounding it and no privacy screen or veil of any sort.

There. With a window directly behind it.

There. To the right of the clothes dryer and to the left of a shelf full of non-perishables.

A toilet.

A real, working, flushing TOILET, sitting in the middle of my grandmother’s basement.

Growing up, I will admit, I used that toilet on occasion. Four sisters and lots of cousins regularly descending upon my grandmother’s house for dinner every Saturday meant it would be a rare occurrence when you would find the lone furnished, wall-enclosed upstairs bathroom available and/or devoid of noxious fumes.  So there we would sit on the basement potty under lights so fluorescently bright you could do surgery under them, willing our little bodies to empty as fast as they could.  Wondering if there was a cousin or a stray dog watching us from the window. Praying Grandma wouldn’t choose that particular second to retrieve a can of sauce from the shelf.  Thinking this must be what it’s like in jail. Wondering why the heck doesn’t Pap-Pap put some [darn] walls around this thing. And then we’d feel guilty because we thought a swearword in our heads.

I spent the next two and a half decades thinking my grandmother’s house was the single house built by the crackpot crew that decided to punk them by putting a wall-less potty in the middle of their basement. Until I bought a house.
My husband and I visited house after house, and in every fourth basement—a potty! Out in the middle of nowhere! Potties haphazardly strewn about basements of every shape and size. Potties with handles and potties with pull cords. Potties with lids and potties without.  Potties so small you wonder if chipmunks use that potty at night. Potties so loud and big and water-wasteful, you fear they could suck the space/time continuum into them.

That was when I came to assume that these potties must be all over the country, not just in my grandmother’s old basement. We purchased a house with a stray potty, and we’ve given that potty a warm home. But we simply pretended as if the stray potty didn’t exist, and we certainly didn’t make eye contact with the potty when we walked past it to do laundry.

Then, very recently, a conversation began on Twitter in which Doug (@douglasderda), an Erie native now living in Pittsburgh, asked, “What is a Pittsburgh Potty?” Without even reading the answers, I knew: “IT HAS A NAME!”

The Pittsburgh Potty!  The lone, sad, old, stained but useful basement toilet found scattered throughout the homes of the Pittsburgh region.  I immediately took to Google to learn more about this phenomenon and discovered that WQED’s and Pittsburgh Magazine’s Rick Sebak featured the Pittsburgh Potty on his show “Pittsburgh Underground.” I learned that the toilets were originally installed for steelworkers to use upon their return home from work and before heading upstairs for dinner.

Fascinated with this new historical knowledge about my beloved Pittsburgh, I returned to the Twitter discussion to find that the catalyst for the original question was a real-estate ad for a local home featuring “a walkout basement with a Pittsburgh commode.” Doug wondered is that something a person really wants to advertise when selling a house, that there’s a place with no walls should you decide to relieve yourself sans privacy?

Apparently so, because Twitter responded to Doug with the following responses:
• “Hey, my house also has that feature!”
• “I told my wife I wanted to put ours back in, but she refused. I threatened to use the stationary tubs.”
• “Everyone I know has one!”
• “In my house, that would be known as my husband’s bathroom.”
• “It’s a huge selling feature for PGH natives. I’m not kidding. We weren’t so lucky in our SS home.”
• “We’re high class people. Our Pittsburgh Potty has a bidet.  Well, it’s a hose mounted on the bottom, but still ….”

And suddenly, just like that, I became proud of my Pittsburgh Potty. It is a treasured, historic artifact! We Pittsburghers take pride in what makes us unique, even if they are ridiculous things like salads made unhealthy with french fries, chairs that reserve parking spaces, our utter inability to yield, Steelers jerseys in church, or yes, that odd toilet in the basement that despite our best intentions, we will probably never enclose.

That means someday soon, during a large family gathering at our home, in a moment of urgency and necessity, my son will find himself down there, wondering, “Why in the name of all that is Pittsburgh doesn’t Daddy put some [darn] walls around this thing?!”
And if I’ve done my job well, he’ll feel very guilty for thinking that swear word.

Edit ModuleShow Tags
Edit Module

Edit ModuleShow TagsEdit ModuleShow Tags
Edit Module Edit ModuleShow Tags

Man Donates a Million to College Founded by His Aunt

Entrepreneur Robert M. “Bob” Brownlee’s contribution will allow Seton Hill University to build a brand new mathematics center and establish a new scholarship.

Annihilation Is Challenging, Otherworldly Science Fiction

Reviews of "Annihilation" and "Mute," plus local movie news and notes.

Penn Cove Eatery and The Warren Open Downtown

The collaboration between Penn Avenue Fish Company and Subversive Cocktails contains a wine shop, grab-and-go sushi, a bar with a late-night menu and more.

Trade Now, Sign Later Approach Could Work Again for Penguins

With the NHL trade deadline looming, the Penguins are increasingly employing more forward-thinking approaches to the acquisition of future stars.

Add Some Culture to Your Life with Swan Lake

If you play your cards right, the beautiful production from Pittsburgh Ballet Theater will dazzle even novices.

The 5 Best Places to People Watch in Pittsburgh

A coffee shop, an iconic landmark, an airport and beyond — these are the best places to practice the art of people watching.

Our Dream Penthouse Used to be a Carpet Warehouse

The building that now houses a $1.05 million dollar penthouse was first used for a much less exciting purpose.

HGTV Renews ‘Restored by the Fords’ Starring Pittsburgh Siblings

The finale showcasing Leanne and Steve Ford airs Tuesday, and the duo already are looking for more local houses to restore for the show’s second season.

Five Fun Facts about Pittsburgh Bridges

With more than 440 bridges in the city to choose from, VisitPITTSBURGH shows off the most interesting bridges within the city in its new Official Visitors Guide.

WQED Event to Celebrate Mister Rogers Forever Stamp

USPS will dedicate a new forever stamp to Fred Rogers and celebrate with a party in March.

Mothers Know Best for This Pittsburgh Couple

For Cady Walter and Jared Henigin, happily ever after may never have happened if their mothers hadn’t acted as matchmakers.

Peters Township Native Wins Silver Medal in Speed Skating

After swine flu kept him from competing in Sochi in 2014, short track speed skater John-Henry Krueger finally won a spot on the podium at the Winter Olympic Games in Pyeongchang.

Perspectives: A Better Life

A former Pittsburgh television reporter recounts the lessons taught to him by his grandfather who spent more than four decades as a Pullman Porter.

Pittsburgh MultiStories: Phipps Legacy – The Fulton Building

With its distinctive seven-story archway, the Fulton Building (now the Renaissance Pittsburgh Hotel) remains a beloved Pittsburgh landmark.

Kick Back and Relax with a Baby Sloth

For $150 you can book an up-close hang out session with Vivien the two-toed sloth.
Edit Module
Edit ModuleShow Tags


Man Donates a Million to College Founded by His Aunt

Man Donates a Million to College Founded by His Aunt

Entrepreneur Robert M. “Bob” Brownlee’s contribution will allow Seton Hill University to build a brand new mathematics center and establish a new scholarship.

Comments

Five Fun Facts about Pittsburgh Bridges

Five Fun Facts about Pittsburgh Bridges

With more than 440 bridges in the city to choose from, VisitPITTSBURGH shows off the most interesting bridges within the city in its new Official Visitors Guide.

Comments


All the foodie news that's fit to blog
Penn Cove Eatery and The Warren Open Downtown

Penn Cove Eatery and The Warren Open Downtown

The collaboration between Penn Avenue Fish Company and Subversive Cocktails contains a wine shop, grab-and-go sushi, a bar with a late-night menu and more.

Comments

First Look: Poulet Bleu in Lawrenceville

First Look: Poulet Bleu in Lawrenceville

PM dining critic Hal B. Klein takes a look at the new Richard DeShantz restaurant ... and he has the scoop on what's next from the energetic restaurateur.

Comments


Not just good stuff. Great stuff.
The 5 Best Places to People Watch in Pittsburgh

The 5 Best Places to People Watch in Pittsburgh

A coffee shop, an iconic landmark, an airport and beyond — these are the best places to practice the art of people watching.

Comments

Sweet Ideas: Our Favorites for Valentine's Day

Sweet Ideas: Our Favorites for Valentine's Day

Where to eat, where to go, what to buy –– some of our favorites to make your Valentine's celebration memorable.

Comments


Add Some Culture to Your Life with Swan Lake

Add Some Culture to Your Life with Swan Lake

If you play your cards right, the beautiful production from Pittsburgh Ballet Theater will dazzle even novices.

Comments

After Dark Hall of Fame: Stage AE

After Dark Hall of Fame: Stage AE

The North Shore concert hotspot is the latest inductee in the After Dark Hall of Fame.

Comments


Mike Prisuta's Sports Section

A weekly look at the games people are playing and the people who are playing them.
Trade Now, Sign Later Approach Could Work Again for Penguins

Trade Now, Sign Later Approach Could Work Again for Penguins

With the NHL trade deadline looming, the Penguins are increasingly employing more forward-thinking approaches to the acquisition of future stars.

Comments

The Quest is No Less Recognizable Even if Team USA Is Not

The Quest is No Less Recognizable Even if Team USA Is Not

They’re still playing hockey at the Winter Olympics, but without NHL players. Which means the guys doing the playing are relative nobodies. That isn’t necessarily a bad thing.

Comments


The movies that are playing in Pittsburgh –– and, more importantly, whether or not they're worth your time.
Annihilation Is Challenging, Otherworldly Science Fiction

Annihilation Is Challenging, Otherworldly Science Fiction

Reviews of "Annihilation" and "Mute," plus local movie news and notes.

Comments

Black Panther is Marvel's Best Film

Black Panther is Marvel's Best Film

Reviews of "Black Panther" and "Early Man," plus local movie news and notes.

Comments


Everything you need to know about getting married in Pittsburgh today.
Mothers Know Best for This Pittsburgh Couple

Mothers Know Best for This Pittsburgh Couple

For Cady Walter and Jared Henigin, happily ever after may never have happened if their mothers hadn’t acted as matchmakers.

Comments

Cookie Table Contest: And the Winner Is ...

Cookie Table Contest: And the Winner Is ...

We introduce the winner and the runners up for our biannual cookie table contest.

Comments


Weekly inspiration for your home from the editors of Pittsburgh Magazine
Our Dream Penthouse Used to be a Carpet Warehouse

Our Dream Penthouse Used to be a Carpet Warehouse

The building that now houses a $1.05 million dollar penthouse was first used for a much less exciting purpose.

Comments

HGTV Renews ‘Restored by the Fords’ Starring Pittsburgh Siblings

HGTV Renews ‘Restored by the Fords’ Starring Pittsburgh Siblings

The finale showcasing Leanne and Steve Ford airs Tuesday, and the duo already are looking for more local houses to restore for the show’s second season.

Comments