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

The Latest

Stop Using Uber and Lyft, Renting a Bike is Better

You'll save money and have an easier time hopping between neighborhoods on a Healthy Ride bicycle.

America’s “Gratest” Celebration of Cheese is Coming to Pittsburgh

Sample cheese of every rind during the American Cheese Society’s annual Festival of Cheese.

The 400-Word Review: Skyscraper

If you want "Die Hard" with half the brains but three times the building, the new Dwayne Johnson flick will do a passing job.

A Pop-Up Bar in Pittsburgh that Serves a Sober Alternative

Empath provides the vibe and social space of a bar, as well as stepped up beverage service ... without the alcohol.

Watch: 12 Questions with WTAE's Sally Wiggin

The WTAE anchor was voted Best Journalist by readers of Pittsburgh Magazine. She answers 12 random questions ranging from her most memorable vacation to who should portray her in a movie.

Tax Credit Brought Mister Rogers Flick to Pittsburgh

The granting of the credit means the majority, if not most of the movie starring Tom Hanks, will indeed be shot in the Pittsburgh area.

Compelling World Cup Worth a Periodic Embrace

The competition is as fierce as the fans are passionate and both can be appreciated without a firm grasp of the details.

Jeff Goldblum Day is Causing a Stir in the ’Burgh

Local venues will be celebrating the native actor Friday with Goldblum-themed merchandise and events.

Willow Restaurant in the North Hills Lands a New Chef

Aaron Allen comes to Willow by way of 2-star Daniel in New York City. Plus, Greta Harmon joins the staff of the Ohio Township hideaway as the restaurant's new bar manager.

Pittsburgh Developer Offers Location for Riverfront Swings

A developer in the South Side may fulfill KDKA anchor Ken Rice’s wish for shaded benches along the city’s riverfronts.

Head to the North Hills for Two Blooming Garden Tours

The Wexford Garden and Pond Tour and the Southern Butler County Garden Club tour both take place this weekend.

I Do, Now Let’s Have Some BBQ

A five-course meal doesn’t fit with every wedding. These laid-back couples opted for casual — and delicious — cuisine perfect for their outdoor and barn receptions.

Expert Opinions on How HQ2 Could Change Pittsburgh

From jobs to housing to technology, six areas which would be impacted if Amazon chose Pittsburgh for its HQ2.

The 400-Word Review: The Legacy of a Whitetail Deer Hunter

The Netflix exclusive Josh Brolin flick is pleasant enough, but light on laughs.

The 400-Word Review: The First Purge

The prequel to the horror series has plenty to say. It's just no good at saying it.
Edit Module
Edit ModuleShow Tags


America’s “Gratest” Celebration of Cheese is Coming to Pittsburgh

America’s “Gratest” Celebration of Cheese is Coming to Pittsburgh

Sample cheese of every rind during the American Cheese Society’s annual Festival of Cheese.

Comments

Watch: 12 Questions with WTAE's Sally Wiggin

Watch: 12 Questions with WTAE's Sally Wiggin

The WTAE anchor was voted Best Journalist by readers of Pittsburgh Magazine. She answers 12 random questions ranging from her most memorable vacation to who should portray her in a movie.

Comments


All the foodie news that's fit to blog
A Pop-Up Bar in Pittsburgh that Serves a Sober Alternative

A Pop-Up Bar in Pittsburgh that Serves a Sober Alternative

Empath provides the vibe and social space of a bar, as well as stepped up beverage service ... without the alcohol.

Comments

Willow Restaurant in the North Hills Lands a New Chef

Willow Restaurant in the North Hills Lands a New Chef

Aaron Allen comes to Willow by way of 2-star Daniel in New York City. Plus, Greta Harmon joins the staff of the Ohio Township hideaway as the restaurant's new bar manager.

Comments


Not just good stuff. Great stuff.
Six Underrated Kennywood Rides You Need to Try Again

Six Underrated Kennywood Rides You Need to Try Again

Leave enough time in your next visit to Kennywood to revisit some old favorites and these underrated gems.

Comments

The Five Best Spots to Get Pittsburgh-Themed Merchandise

The Five Best Spots to Get Pittsburgh-Themed Merchandise

Looking to show off your Pittsburgh love? Get your favorite city printed on basically anything at these local shops.

Comments


Stop Using Uber and Lyft, Renting a Bike is Better

Stop Using Uber and Lyft, Renting a Bike is Better

You'll save money and have an easier time hopping between neighborhoods on a Healthy Ride bicycle.

Comments

Five Essential July Events in Pittsburgh

Five Essential July Events in Pittsburgh

Parking-lot punk, polished Potter and other July attractions.

Comments


Mike Prisuta's Sports Section

A weekly look at the games people are playing and the people who are playing them.
Compelling World Cup Worth a Periodic Embrace

Compelling World Cup Worth a Periodic Embrace

The competition is as fierce as the fans are passionate and both can be appreciated without a firm grasp of the details.

Comments

Pirates Can Be Show Stoppers if They Follow Brault's Lead

Pirates Can Be Show Stoppers if They Follow Brault's Lead

A Broadway musical about the life and times of the Pittsburgh Pirates? The idea might not be as farfetched as you think.

Comments


The movies that are playing in Pittsburgh –– and, more importantly, whether or not they're worth your time.
The 400-Word Review: Skyscraper

The 400-Word Review: Skyscraper

If you want "Die Hard" with half the brains but three times the building, the new Dwayne Johnson flick will do a passing job.

Comments

The 400-Word Review: The Legacy of a Whitetail Deer Hunter

The 400-Word Review: The Legacy of a Whitetail Deer Hunter

The Netflix exclusive Josh Brolin flick is pleasant enough, but light on laughs.

Comments


Everything you need to know about getting married in Pittsburgh today.
I Do, Now Let’s Have Some BBQ

I Do, Now Let’s Have Some BBQ

A five-course meal doesn’t fit with every wedding. These laid-back couples opted for casual — and delicious — cuisine perfect for their outdoor and barn receptions.

Comments

Want Unique Wedding Photos? Track Down the Furries

Want Unique Wedding Photos? Track Down the Furries

Anthrocon returns this weekend for its 22nd annual convention. Here’s the story of one local couple who took advantage of the fact their wedding coincided with the annual gathering.

Comments


Weekly inspiration for your home from the editors of Pittsburgh Magazine
Head to the North Hills for Two Blooming Garden Tours

Head to the North Hills for Two Blooming Garden Tours

The Wexford Garden and Pond Tour and the Southern Butler County Garden Club tour both take place this weekend.

Comments

Cocktails in the Garden: How to Plant a Happy Hour

Cocktails in the Garden: How to Plant a Happy Hour

Plant and grow the ingredients you need to make a fresh summer drink.

Comments