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Before they invented toilet paper

Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings moved to Cross Creek in 1928. For all her reputation as an Earth Mother, Rawlings hated her outhouse.

In the winter, the seat was icy cold. In summer, the occasional rattlesnake coveted its dark. The outhouse lacked a door but had a screen. Trouble was, if you looked out the dining room window at the outhouse, you could see right through the screen. Not that Rawlings wanted to meet the unhappy eyes of whoever might be listening to a call of nature while wondering about those odd reptilian rustlings.

Rawlings wrote about outhouse high jinks in a chapter of Cross Creek called "The Evolution of Comfort." When she sold her first short story, Jacob's Ladder, for a magnificent Depression-era price of $700, she knew exactly how she'd invest.

Her outhouse is still an object of fascination at the Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings State Historic Site at Cross Creek. For years, a few of her most devoted fans liked sneaking into the park after hours and testing the outhouse.

"I believe people wanted to sit where Marjorie had sat," says Sally Morrison, who supervised the historic site for decades. "We'd even see toilet paper down at the bottom."

Eventually, Morrison placed a sign outside Rawlings' outhouse that stands today.

"To Be Looked At and Not Sat At," it says.

Morrison is now superintendent at another pioneer settlement, the Dudley Farm Historic State Park outside of Gainesville near Newberry. The Dudleys, who started planting crops and raising livestock before the Civil War, had two outhouses, one for the guys and another for the gals. Each outhouse featured three holes, including a small one that fit a tot's fanny.

Toilet paper hadn't been invented. Like most pioneers, the Dudleys kept in their outhouses a nice collection of corn cobs. Soaked in water, they became soft as a roll of Charmin.

In the 20th century, the most popular outhouse accessory was probably the latest Sears catalog.

"Some of us used Spanish moss," remembers Norman Proveaux, 78-year-old Myakka City cattleman. "But catalogs were better." He tore down his outhouse decades ago, but felt a tug of nostalgia and left the deep concrete basin for his wife, Joyce, who turned it into a giant vase for her violets.

The most hardscrabble of old-timers were suspicious of the newfangled flush toilets that had been invented by Britain's Thomas Crapper in the 19th century and introduced to much of Florida during FDR's New Deal.

"Before that, only rich folks could afford real toilets," says Elmo Boone, born in Miami 79 years ago. As a boy, he moved to St. Petersburg, where almost everybody had outhouses.

"That was fine with some of the old-timers," says Boone, who now lives in Citrus County. "My uncle refused to use indoor plumbing. He always said, "Nobody's going to s_- under my roof.' "

Ah, sweet nostalgia. As the Hoosier poet James Whitcomb Riley (1849-1916) once wrote about that most practical building:

We did our duties promptly, there one purpose swayed the mind,

We tarried not, nor lingered long on what we left behind.