Posted by Bruce Kahl on November 01, 2001

In Reply to: Moon posted by R. Berg on November 01, 2001

: : : : My wife and I were discussing, after watching the movie "Shrek" why there is always a half-moon on an outhouse. Any ideas?

: : : Two ideas. It's a crescent moon. Moons (of any phase) may not have universally adorned real outhouses when outhouses were common. They're a convention of cartoons and other forms of fiction, much like all businesses being named Acme. I hope someone else can say how the moons got started.

: : Put there for ventilation, no doubt. There have been books written about outhouses but there are none in my library. Could it be tied to signs painted on barns? Or maybe a crescent moon is just a logical shape. A full moon would allow someone to get a good look.

: Yes, for ventilation, but why a moon at all? If you work with wood, about the first thing you notice is that without fancy tools it's much easier to cut straight lines than curves. A row of small square windows would ventilate as well.

I found a web site that has an FAQ on outhouses.
This find proves that I really need to get a life!
Here is a paste from the FAQ:

"The answer lies in the lighting inside because outhouses were around before electricity. The best way to let light in was to put in a window. For privacy reasons, most outhouses were designed with the window above the line of sight. Many early outhouses contained a decorative "moon cutout" covered by glass. This allowed just enough light in to take care of business! It also allowed the real moon to shine through during the night. Bringing a lit lantern into some outhouses could have caused quite a bang so the moon won out! In reality, most people had a covered pot under the bed to go in during the night. Get's mighty cold at night going outside and the varmints are something else!

Here is another explanation...
Probably the most recognizable symbol associated symbol with the traditional outhouse building is the familiar crescent moon carved into the privy door. Actually, the symbol is an ancient one, and was a sign for womanhood in colonial days and on the frontier. It's male counterpart, Sol, was either a star or a sun burst design also on the door. Since most male outhouses fell into disrepair rather quickly they seldom survived; while the female ones were better maintained, and were eventually used by both sexes. Although you can find outhouses still standing with the crescent moon, the original meaning for gender identification was lost by the later nineteenth century in most areas of the country.

Here is another response from another person... The moon that is often found on the outhouse door stand for the ancient sign- luna- or womanhood. When the outhouse was first invented people needed these signs to discern which was the men's or women's bathroom-for most people couldn't read. Soon, however, the men's became rundown or was very unkempt and not maintained. So everybody just used the women's bathroom, and the mens sunburst or sol sign was forgotten. The moon sign was kept and is also used as a vent.

Another person corrects the term "quarter moon" as follows. This person obviously knows more about the sky than I do: The first sentence states that it is a quarter moon. A quarter moon, however, is a half lit moon where the terminator is half-way between each side of the disk. It would be more accurate to refer to the moon as a crescent moon in all cases. And if you wanted to be pedantic about it you could go so far as to call it a waxing or waning crescent moon depending on which side is lit."