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Hooch, Chamber Pots, And More Found In 1800s Newport Toilet Sites

Hooch, chamber pots, and buttons were among many artifacts recently found at two outdoor toilet sites, known as privies, in Newport. They were discovered at the former Green Derby Kentucky Bistro a few weeks ago. Northern Kentucky University students are getting a rare hands-on experience cleaning and sorting for an exhibit in May.

"It's not a real common occurrence to be able to identify [a privy] that the owners of the property are willing to let you come in and excavate," said Scott Clark, Newport's Historic Preservation Officer. "This was a great example at the Green Derby because not only was a building removed, but we know a new building will go on top of it. So this was just a window of opportunity to go ahead and do something with the artifacts that were there."

He said the privies were 12-to-14 feet deep and excavated in just two days by local hobbyists who dig up privies for fun. The newest artifacts are estimated to be from the 1910s, but many pieces date back to the late 1800s.

About half a dozen students in the public history class at NKU were at the Newport History Museum Monday afternoon, sorting the artifacts, scrubbing them clean with toothbrushes and dish soap, and piecing them together.

"It's kind of like a big jigsaw puzzle. And so once you start to put these pieces together, you see what you can actually identify out of it," Clark said.

Most of the items were bathroom related, like chamber pots. But other artifacts found their way into the privies as well, like shoes, a doll's head, and two bottles of what Clark says are likely illegal hooch. He said that's likely because privies were eventually used as trash heaps.

After the items are cleaned, categorized, and put together, they'll be part of an exhibit at the Newport Levee in May.

"So the exhibit that's coming up is about telling the 225 year history of Newport in 50 objects. So this is one of the objects, and we're hoping to have a mock up of what the whole of the privy might look like, using some of the pieces in there and then showing what we built," Clark said.

The artifacts will eventually have a permanent home at the Newport History Museum.

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