“They said they were privy diggers. They had this map of Abilene that showed that an old house had been on my property and they thought they could find the old outhouse,” Whitehair said.
The men, Kenny Burbrink of Newton and Johnnie Fletcher of Mustang, Okla., collect antique bottles which can be found in outhouses. Fletcher published a book, Kansas Bottles: 1854 to 1915, which is 380 pages of bottle names and illustrations by city and manufacturer. Fletcher is also the president of the Oklahoma Territory Bottle and Relic Club.
After probing for a likely spot behind Whitehair’s house, they began digging and discovered bottles for medicine manufactured in Abilene, an ink well, a chamber pot, and an old lamp reservoir.
“This is just our hobby,” Burbrink said. “About nine years ago [Fletcher] came to dig bottles and I asked if he’d take me. Right now we’re in search of Abilene drug store bottles.”
On Monday, Fletcher and Burbrink were digging behind Kevin and Gina Dalton’s home. One outhouse site had been declared “too new” and they were in the process of digging a second hole in search of older treasures.
They had already dug behind Steve Wedel’s house.
“They knew it was an outhouse because they found some seeds,” Wedel said. “I’m going to see if they will germinate.”
The group of neighbors looked excitedly at each new find and listened to the description of the bottle.
Burbrink poked a metal probe into the soil in the bottom of the hole, searching for the best place to dig.
“Oh, I’ve got a nice one,” Burbrink said. “This is a whiskey bottle, about 1860s, which is actually older than this outhouse. They probably kept it and then threw it away.”
“These bottles were hand-blown. They would blow on the glass and then stick it on a rod because it was too hot,” Fletcher said, pointing to the indentation on the bottom.
“We don’t dig stuff that old that often,” Burbrink said.
“Everything they’ve dug up, he’s been able to identify,” Whitehair said, amazed.
The items that are found go into Fletcher and Burbrink’s private collections, are traded with other collectors, or given to the homeowners.
They also enjoy creating stories about why a certain item was “pitched.” Burbrink told the two theories about the marbles they found.
“The theory on the marbles is that the parents got tired of stepping on them and so they threw them in the outhouse,” Burbrink said. “The other theory is that the sister threw the brother’s marbles in there.”
“Here’s another one,” Fletcher said as he retrieved a bottle from the hole.
Another piece of local history is retrieved from the dirt and can be passed on to others.