I was watching one of those real estate TV shows, when I first heard the term mentioned. The real estate agent took the couple down to the basement and there it was, just sitting there, in the corner, all alone. “And here you have, the Pittsburgh potty!” she said amusingly. “Where’s the rest of the bathroom?” the couple asked. “There isn’t one,” she replied, “but you can add one.” “Why is it called, the Pittsburgh potty?” they asked, staring at the lone toilet in wonderment. “Because, most of the houses in Pittsburgh were built with a toilet in the basement.” I laughed as I watched the three of them just standing there, looking at it like they had never seen a toilet until that moment.
I grew up in Pittsburgh. It’s true, every house on my street had a toilet in the basement, but I had no idea it had the distinction of being dubbed as a city original. It was simply there. A normal part of my childhood. My grandparents put a curtain around theirs. My great-uncle made a stall, and my dad and uncle made a cement block shower and added a sink and walls. A full bathroom in the basement. La de da. They used it when they were doing laundry, had been working outside, or had to clean up from some dirty job. My grandfather had a pool table in the basement, so his buddies used it when they shot pool. As children, it was the only potty we used in each other’s houses, because we were outside playing most of the time. Of course, when we got older, we were allowed in the upstairs bathrooms of our friends. A whole new world of refinement!
When I married, we lived in many places before we bought a house. I noticed right away that there was no toilet in the basement. I regret we didn’t put one in first thing. It would have come in handy when working outside, doing laundry and a shower would have been great for cleaning up after messy jobs. But alas, we have no Pittsburgh potty! And we are the poorer for it, for the Pittsburgh potty is not only a piece of Pittsburgh engineering brilliance, it is a practical way to keep your house clean. Another little gem that makes this such a livable city! The Pittsburgh Potty. Gotta have one.