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Passing of the old Back House by Riley
Posted by: Jean Burrows (
Date: July 02, 2001 11:33AM

Where can I find this?

Re: Passing of the old Back House by Riley
Posted by: Marian (
Date: July 03, 2001 03:33PM

This was tricky! It's NOTon any of the James Whitcomb Riley websites I searched (not even the one devoted to the celebration of JWR's 150th birthday, in 2002!), but I found it at last on the CALLIGRAPHA website--location given at the bottom of this posting--where they sell a nice illustrated version of it.

I know of no other ode to an outhouse. (Hugh, that is NOT a challenge to you, to write one.)


"The Passing of the Backhouse"
by James Whitcomb Riley

When memory keeps me company and moves to smiles or tears,
A weather-beaten object looms through the mist of years.
Behind the house and barn it stood a half a mile or more
And hurrying feet a path had made straight to its swinging door.

Its architecture was a type of simple, classic art
But in the tragedy of life it played a leading part.
And oft the passing traveler would drive slow and heave a sigh
To see the modest hired girl slip out with glances shy.

We had our posy garden that the women loved so well.
I loved it too but better still, I loved the stronger smell
That filled the evening breezes so full of homey cheer
And told the night-o'ertaken tramp that human life was near.

On lazy August afternoons it made a little bower,
Delightful where my grandsire sat and whiled away an hour.
For there the summer morning, its very cares entwined
And berry bushes reddened in the streaming soil behind.

All day fat spiders spun their webs to catch the buzzing flies
That flitted to and from the house where Ma was baking pies.
And once a swarm of hornets bold had built a palace there.
They stung my unsuspecting aunt--I cannot tell you where.

Then Father took a flaming pole; that was a happy day.
He nearly burnt the building up, but the hornets left to stay.
When summers bloom began to fade and winter to carouse,
We banked the little building with a heap of hemlock boughs.

But when the crust was on the snow and the sullen skies were gray,
In sooth, the building was no place where one would wish to stay.
We did our duties promptly, there one purpose swayed the mind,
We tarried not, nor lingered long on what we left behind.

The torture of that icy seat could make a Spartan sob.
For needs must scrape the gooseflesh with a lacerating cob
That from a frost-encrusted nail was suspended by a string.
My father was a frugal man and wasted not a thing.

When Grandpa had to go out back and make his morning call,
We bundled up the dear old man with a muffler and a shawl.
I knew the hole on which he sat; twas padded all around,<br /> And once I dared to sit there.Twas all too wide I found.

My loins were all too little and I jacknifed there to stay.
They had to come and get me out or I'd a passed away.<br /> Then Father said ambition is a thing that boys should shun<br /> And I must use the children's holetil childhood's days were done.

That dear old country landmark, I tramped around a bit
And in the lap of luxury, my lot has been to sit.
But ere I die, I'll eat the fruit of trees I robbed of yore.
And seek the shanty where my name is carved upon the door.

I ween the old familiar smell will soothe my faded soul.
I'm now a man, but nonetheless, I'll try the children's hole.

(found at [];

Re: Passing of the old Back House by Riley
Posted by: Hugh Clary (
Date: July 03, 2001 03:48PM

Truly disgusting verse. Riley, huh? Who wudda thunkit?
Nice find, by the way!

Re: Passing of the old Back House by Riley
Posted by: Hugh Clary (
Date: July 03, 2001 05:07PM

Perhaps it was not written by Riley? A couple of web searches
turned up this interesting tidbit:

< quote follows >

' I have the copyright and can prove that James Whitcomb
Riley did not write the passing of the Backhouse or the ode
to the Outhouse - same poem but shorter. The author was
Charles T. Rankin. His daughter Kathleen Rankin has the
copyright and showed it to me and I have a copy in the Fulton
County Museum, Rochester, IN.
Shirley Willard, president Fulton Co. Hist. Soc.

We have a few copies of the poem The Passing of the
Backhouse for sale in our museum and you can order it
through the mail by sending check to Fulton Co. Hist. Soc., 37
E 375 N, Rochester IN 46975. The cost is $5 plus $2.50
S&H. Someone published it in 1910 on postcards & attributed
it to James Whitcomb Riley. But Riley said he was not the
author & considered it too risqué. In some of the Riley
records prepared by his lawyers, Riley stated that he did
not write that Backhouse poem!! It was in 1949 that Rankin's
son got the copyright. His daughter Kathleen Rankin has
passed away now so I don't know if there is a member of the
family to hold the copyright or not. She never married & had
no heirs that I know of, though maybe she had a nephew or
niece.' "

< end quote >

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