Pittsburgh proud of its potties

Pittsburgh proud of its potties

In polite company, it's called a "Pittsburgh Potty." Down at the local pub they may use a more colorful term. But a Pittsburgh Potty by any name refers to the same thing: A lone toilet in the basement - no walls, no vanity. Just a toilet.

Highly rated real estate agent Eric Nichols gets the question all the time from clients relocating to the Steel City. If the house is more than 80 years old, chances are good it'll have a Pittsburgh Potty. "Oftentimes, it's sitting out in the middle of everything," Nichols says. "That comes from the days when Pittsburgh was a steel town and a mining town. Workers would come home totally filthy. They would clean up downstairs and not bring the filth upstairs."

Rick Sebak, award-winning producer for Pittsburgh PBS affiliate WQED, devoted one segment of his "Underground Pittsburgh" series to the potties. He's heard reports of them in other cities, such as Baltimore. "But they don't have the alliteration of Pittsburgh Potty," he says. "You have to be in a place where everybody has a basement. Everybody here has a basement."

Old Pittsburgh basements (and we have one sighting as far east as Johnstown, Pa.) have one other quirk: "You almost always find a hand-cranked pencil sharpener attached to the basement steps," Nichols says. "It's like an unwritten rule. It's just the place they put the pencil sharpener."

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