Paul Andersen: Fair Game
August 7, 2012
All of Aspen should mourn an incalculable loss. Two weeks ago, just as nostalgia for the golden era of the Aspen hippie culture was being revived, the Forest Service demolished a historic remnant from another age – the beloved King Cabin. As a heart-rending footnote, an adjacent historic icon also fell to the accursed bulldozer.
The King Cabin succumbed to demolition because it failed to meet Forest Service requirements. Code violations and safety concerns were the death knell for this historic structure, unique among engineering wonders for the old ski boot tied to a pulley system that operated an automatic door closure with Rube Goldberg ingenuity.
The other fallen gem was described in the press as “the quaint, nearby outhouse.” It too was unceremoniously laid beneath the sod. I immediately dialed up my therapist for a grieving session. “My God!” I moaned. “Is nothing sacred? That humble latrine was part of our collective soul!”
Unless you were one of the thousands of visitors to Ashcroft who found relief there, the Ashcroft outhouse was not widely recognized as a significant structure. Yet no structure can be as intimate and personal as a well-frequented outhouse, with all its embedded memories.
Across the Elk Range in Crested Butte, outhouses are given the respect they deserve. Of special historic note is the famed two-story outhouse, an architectural feat that draws flocks of tourists who gape, stare and point at this cherished relic.
The old two-story was engineered for the long drop because of deep snowfall. When the lower door was blocked by snowdrifts, clever Crested Butteicians climbed the stairs to a higher level, a vantage that elevated one from the vault below, offered a scenic view of town and avoided the necessity of digging out the door every time nature called.
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Crested Butte’s famous outhouse is described in “Bizarre Colorado,” an obscure book by obscure historian Abbott Fay. “One wonders how such a structure could be designed,” posited the author. “Could both levels be used at once, or would the lower occupant be in peril from the upper user? The secret of the two-story outhouse is in having the functional portions offset.” And so ends the captivating mystery.
The Ashcroft outhouse did not have the depth of intrigue imbued in Crested Butte’s legendary crapper, but it surely had historic significance and irreplaceable character, especially when considering the many chilled bottoms it frosted.
Many are the tourists whose winter highlight in Aspen was a moment of solitude spent perched on the frigid throne in that rustic commode. Here the layers of cotton, polyester and wool were peeled back to the bare essentials as flesh met pine in a primal act.
As we reflect on our fading connections to the past, the Ashcroft outhouse becomes a Thoreau-back to simplicity, a reconnection with history of the most discreet and personal kind, a linkage from buttocks to a bastion of frontier life.
The Forest Service will no doubt require the installation of a porta-potty in place of that classic wooden privy. Talk of crimes against humanity! There is nothing so aesthetically demeaning than having to duck into a plastic shell reeking of air freshener, where closing the door is like shutting a cheap suitcase. How mortifying to be enclosed in a generic plastic coffin where the outhouse ambiance is reduced to an industrial blend of chemical slurries and scented purple flushes.
The Ashcroft outhouse was symbolic of all that is good and true and beautiful. How sad that it succumbed to the dictates of federal protocols formulated by soulless clerks conniving needless regulations in an airless office in Washington, D.C., where the toilet down the hall is enshrined in tomblike white porcelain.
If I had only known this was going to happen, I would have organized a “Save the Outhouse!” nonprofit, 401c3 to protect this monument to local history from the barbarians pounding at the gates with their heavy hands and cold, cold hearts.
A smoothly orchestrated movement could have saved this historical totem, which would be standing proudly today (if somewhat askew). Instead, the past is wiped away, leaving only a sorry hole in the ground where dear memories linger with gaseous vapors emanating from the earthy mold of the hallowed past.