PARKERSBURG, W.Va. -- A new exhibit in Parkersburg's Blennerhassett Island Museum of Regional History promises to leave its viewers flushed with excitement.
Well, at least privy to the history of American privies.
"Behind Closed Doors -- American Bathrooms Through the Ages," opened earlier this month, and will remain on display through the end of this year. The exhibit features chamber pots, close stools, bedpans and early flush commodes and other indoor amenities used in households during the years before the arrival of indoor plumbing.
"We were looking for something different, something novel," said Ray Swick, historian for Blennerhassett Island State Park, which operates the three-story museum in downtown Parkersburg.
"Interest in bathrooms is something that's never gone out of style, yet you never see public exhibits dealing with them," Swick said. "Thirty years ago, an exhibit like this might have been considered to be in poor taste. But people have loosened their corsets a little since then, and have a better attitude toward something that has always been a part of everyday life."
Several pieces in the exhibit were already in the Blennerhassett Museum's collection, but not singled out for co-starring roles in a showcase of historic potty items.
Among them is a close stool, or box-enclosed sit-on-top chamber pot used in the Parkersburg home of Arthur Ingram Boreman, West Virginia's first governor.
Swick said the contents of the gubernatorial disposal device were deposited, presumably by a servant, "in the garden or into an outhouse" behind the Boreman home.
Boreman's squat, spare close stool is dwarfed by a throne-like 18th century commode chair, which Swick picked up from an antique store in Natchez, Tenn.
"This piece had been used by a well-to-do family," Swick said. "It's very well made. You could close the lid on this chair and use it as an elegant piece of furniture."
Other pre-plumbing waste control systems on display include chamber pots and bedpans of varying materials and functions, and an assortment of toddlers' potty chairs.
Non-potty accessories in the exhibit include a Victorian-era ceramic water pitcher and bowl perched atop a dresser stand from Parkersburg's now-defunct Van Winkle Hotel, and a wooden bathtub with a zinc-copper liner equipped with wheels for room-to-room service.
Since rolled and perforated toilet paper didn't arrive on the American scene until the 1880s, pages from telephone books, mail-order catalogs -- even newspapers -- were recycled and used for a second and final purpose, Swick said. "Now, the average American uses something like 70 miles of toilet paper a year," he said.