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 Tags

Hot Reads

Top 10 Things to Do in Pittsburgh in December

Top 10 Things to Do in Pittsburgh in December

This month's best bets in The 'Burgh.
50+ Things That Will Make You Enjoy Winter in Pittsburgh

50+ Things That Will Make You Enjoy Winter in Pittsburgh

Love it or hate it, winter is upon us. Because some of us may think there's a lot not to like, we bring you 50+ things to eat, drink and do –– and some helpful tips –– that'll keep the blues at bay.
Excellence in Nursing: Meet Our 2016 Honorees

Excellence in Nursing: Meet Our 2016 Honorees

Pittsburgh Magazine presents the honorees from its inaugural Excellence in Nursing awards. Meet our judges' choices and learn what makes them remarkable in their field.
Choreographed Style: Winter Fashion with The Pittsburgh Ballet

Choreographed Style: Winter Fashion with The Pittsburgh Ballet

A regal ruggedness characterizes the season's menswear looks.
Edit ModuleShow Tags

The 412

The Mosaic Stairway: You've Never Seen Steps Like These

The Mosaic Stairway: You've Never Seen Steps Like These

When viewed from the foot of the South Side Slopes of Pittsburgh, the stairs ascending Josephine Street form a massive image that consists of more than 7,500 individual mosaic tiles.
Joe Manganiello Plays the Good Guy for Children’s Hospital

Joe Manganiello Plays the Good Guy for Children’s Hospital

The actor, director and Mt. Lebanon native is joining the board of trustees of the Children’s Hospital of Pittsburgh Foundation.
Pittsburgh Man Sets World Record By Lifting 1 Million Pounds

Pittsburgh Man Sets World Record By Lifting 1 Million Pounds

Matt Scoletti accomplishes the feat in just under nine hours.
Why Thanksgiving Comes Every Day for 3 Pittsburgh-Area Men

Why Thanksgiving Comes Every Day for 3 Pittsburgh-Area Men

They owe their lives to one man who lives on in each of them.
Edit ModuleShow Tags
Edit ModuleShow Tags

Hot Reads

Top 10 Things to Do in Pittsburgh in December

Top 10 Things to Do in Pittsburgh in December

This month's best bets in The 'Burgh.
50+ Things That Will Make You Enjoy Winter in Pittsburgh

50+ Things That Will Make You Enjoy Winter in Pittsburgh

Love it or hate it, winter is upon us. Because some of us may think there's a lot not to like, we bring you 50+ things to eat, drink and do –– and some helpful tips –– that'll keep the blues at bay.
Excellence in Nursing: Meet Our 2016 Honorees

Excellence in Nursing: Meet Our 2016 Honorees

Pittsburgh Magazine presents the honorees from its inaugural Excellence in Nursing awards. Meet our judges' choices and learn what makes them remarkable in their field.
Choreographed Style: Winter Fashion with The Pittsburgh Ballet

Choreographed Style: Winter Fashion with The Pittsburgh Ballet

A regal ruggedness characterizes the season's menswear looks.
Restaurant Review: B52 in Lawrenceville is a Levantine Lifter

Restaurant Review: B52 in Lawrenceville is a Levantine Lifter

Omar Abuhejleh taps deep into his roots at his vegan cafe that's focused on Levantine cuisine.
Why You Can't Beat The Weather in Pittsburgh in The Winter

Why You Can't Beat The Weather in Pittsburgh in The Winter

I’ve traveled a lot of miles, and I still stare in bewilderment at people who tell me they’ve moved to a place because “You can’t beat the weather.”
Edit Module
Edit Module

Edit ModuleShow Tags

On the Blogs


The Mosaic Stairway: You've Never Seen Steps Like These

The Mosaic Stairway: You've Never Seen Steps Like These

When viewed from the foot of the South Side Slopes of Pittsburgh, the stairs ascending Josephine Street form a massive image that consists of more than 7,500 individual mosaic tiles.

Comments


All the foodie news that's fit to blog
The Café Carnegie Now Open in Oakland

The Café Carnegie Now Open in Oakland

Chefs Sonja Finn and Becca Hegarty helm the refurbished restaurant at the Carnegie Museums.

Comments


Not just good stuff. Great stuff.
Best of the Burgh: Pumpkin Patches in the Pittsburgh Area

Best of the Burgh: Pumpkin Patches in the Pittsburgh Area

We’ve compiled the best pumpkin patches for fall family fun.

Comments


Why Wait For Summer? Head to Kennywood's Holiday Lights

Why Wait For Summer? Head to Kennywood's Holiday Lights

The park's winter celebration is great for families and a fine choice for anyone who loves Christmas (and/or funnel cake).

Comments


Mike Prisuta's Sports Section

A weekly look at the games people are playing and the people who are playing them.
Big Ten-Champion Nittany Lions More Worthy Than Buckeyes

Big Ten-Champion Nittany Lions More Worthy Than Buckeyes

For some reason Ohio State is ranked No. 2 in the latest playoff rankings and Penn State is No. 7. That has to change if Penn State beats Wisconsin on Saturday night.

Comments


Style. Design. Goods. Hide your credit card.
Locket Full of Joy

Locket Full of Joy

The handcrafted piece opens to hidden treasures.

Comments


The movies that are playing in Pittsburgh –– and, more importantly, whether or not they're worth your time.
Ten Upcoming Flicks Every Oscar-Watcher Should See

Ten Upcoming Flicks Every Oscar-Watcher Should See

PM film critic Sean Collier picks ten forthcoming flicks likely to rake in nominations for the 89th Academy Awards.

Comments


Everything you need to know about getting married in Pittsburgh today.
Thinking Small: Pittsburgh Weddings That Are Intimate Affairs

Thinking Small: Pittsburgh Weddings That Are Intimate Affairs

Bigger isn’t always better, at least when it comes to these couples’ wedding ceremonies.

Comments


The latest tips and trends to refresh your home.
Seasonal Shopping: CMOA Store Holiday House, J.Crew Mercantile Opens Doors

Seasonal Shopping: CMOA Store Holiday House, J.Crew Mercantile Opens Doors

The Carnegie Museum of Art is full of Christmas cheer — and great deals. Plus, get the scoop on The Block Northway’s latest retail offering.

Comments


The hottest topics in higher education
Classic Christmas Tale Gets a Twist at Slippery Rock University

Classic Christmas Tale Gets a Twist at Slippery Rock University

An adapted version of “A Christmas Carol” will be presented during a seven-show run.

Comments