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Thursday October 19, 2017
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Kempf House dig

 

continued

For some time, excavators hoped they were digging where the Kempf family's outhouse had stood. When I asked excavation assistant Carol Mull about the "outhouse" site, a thin-lipped smile and pointed reference to "privies" told me that this was the preferred term for digging around in someone's historical toilet. She also said that in the pre-sewage-system era people commonly had privies in their backyards, even in urban areas, and moved them around from time to time, for reasons better imagined than described. They would use the abandoned holes as trash pits — a habit that has made such sites a gold mine of historical items for contemporary historians.

A delicate key discovered in the pit is the favorite artifact of April Beisaw, the archaeologist who directed the excavation. "That tiny, tiny skeleton key . . . you start to wonder what it locked, and if they had lost it. . . . You don't normally lose a key," she muses.

Skeletons are also on the mind of local historian Grace Bacon, who looked through the artifacts with me. "I was kind of hoping they'd find a skeleton, or a silk shoe . . . something revealing," she said. After examining a large series of brick and mortar fragments meticulously cataloged in labeled plastic bags, she said, "I'm glad I'm not in charge of this, because halfway through, I'd throw it all in a pail and call it a day."

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