Decorative Outhouses a Way to Ponder the Past
By Tom Kertscher of the Journal Sentinel
Town of Saukville — Utter lushness is what beckoned Midwest Living magazine and scores of master gardeners to John and Andrea Jaeger's backyard.
Five acres with 50 or more varieties of flowers - Russian sage, tiger lily, stargazer. And beautiful trees, such as the Eastern redbud and the concolor fir.
So why, the Jaegers were right to ask, is a reporter from Milwaukee calling and asking to see the three-holer?
Let's call it an interest in history, as well as the unusual. After all, how many folks collect outhouses?
John, 69, who grew up using one, accepted the bit about an appreciation for the past.
"We don't really want to collect them," he said, agreeing to show his six outhouses. "But we hate to see them being destroyed, because they're part of history."
Just understand that they are accent pieces, said Andrea - making it clear that the flowers are what got the backyard featured in Midwest Living.
It was more than 20 years ago, the Jaegers figure, when they showed up at an auction in Mequon and there was an outhouse for sale.
A $5 bid was enough to take it home.
"I could have got it for a dollar," Andrea recalled. "I was the only one to make a bid."
Word got out, and the next thing you know, friends were coming with another outhouse.
John and Andrea were dressed for a wedding when they noticed something outside.
"There were two guys on a wagon with a case of beer, and it was pulled by a pickup truck," John said.
And so it went. The Jaegers would come upon an outhouse that people, like the guys on the wagon, were about to burn, or someone would hear about the Jaegers and find them.
The most they've paid is $45. And with a trailer, John said, "We can load an outhouse in 15 minutes."
It's probably a good thing.
In 2002, The New York Times reported that the 2000 census had "recorded the demise of the outhouse." For the first time, the paper said, the number of houses without plumbing in the United States had dropped below 1% of all houses.
Back in 1940, nearly half of all homes didn't have plumbing.
So one can appreciate the outhouses along the Jaegers' winding wood-chip path. Especially since they're adorned with flowers, Hansel and Gretel figures, even a Kohler sink.
And in the three-holer, a cute teddy bear wearing a straw hat sits on the smaller hole that a child would use.
Not that John gets all sentimental about outhouses. When asked how far away the one behind his boyhood home was, there was a pause. "Too far," he eventually said, estimating the walk at 200 to 300 feet.
And it's actually been about four years since the Jaegers last acquired an outhouse.
Outside of keeping pesky red squirrels from nesting in them, there isn't much upkeep to outhouses. But if the Jaegers decide to truck another to the backyard, it might have to be special - one made of brick, or a two-story, maybe.
"I don't really need any more," John insisted. But you have a feeling that, if the phone rings again, he might say yes.
Outhouses of note
Special Thank You from the Journal Sentinel for this article, By Tom Kertscher of the Journal Sentinel