I’m hanging out with family this week, but wanted to leave you all with a little family inspiration from the archives.

So here’s the post where I inspire you from the mucky trenches of an outhouse. Enjoy!


george bernard shaw quotes


Several years ago my dad gave me his old Torts book from law school. He said there was a case in it involving my great-grandmother Mary Fitzpatrick Rush, and that I might want to hang onto it because it was a bit of our family history.  The story was a curious one, but still I put the book away for safe keeping.

But recently I got a little more curious after watching the TV show Who Do You Think You Are.  Every week a different celebrity is taken on a journey of personal discovery into his or her family history.  Rob Lowe discovered that his five times great-grandfather fought in the Revolutionary War and Ashley Judd traced her family line back to the Mayflower.

The process typically starts with looking up census records and court documents and then they follow the twists and turns back in time, stumbling upon hardship, perseverance, triumph and even secrets and intrigue.  Above all, they always seem to come away with some sort of inspiration from their lineage.

So I decided to Google my great-grandmother’s case.


My grandmother, great-grandmother and great Aunt


Let me first say that this is not a story of Pilgrims and Patriots, but rather the New Jersey Supreme Court, tenant rights and an outhouse.  In its own unique way it goes deep (so deep I imagine my great-grandmother might’ve wished she’d been wearing waders).


Here’s the gist of the case:

Rush v. Commercial Realty Co., 145 A. 476 (N.J. Sup. Ct. 1929)

The case for the plaintiffs was that they were tenants of the defendant, which controlled the house wherein they lived and also the adjoining house, and provided a detached privy for the use of both houses; that Mrs. Rush having occasion to use this privy, went into it and fell through the floor, or through some sort of trap door therein, descended about nine feet into the accumulation at the bottom, and had to be extricated by use of a ladder. The defendant denied that there was any pit at all, and claimed the floor was only about nine inches above solid ground.

The story as told by my Great Aunt Kitty to my dad was that my great-grandmother fell through the outhouse floor when the rotted portion of the floor in front of the toilet seat collapsed.

My great-grandmother was 5’2″ (and pregnant with my Great Aunt Anna) and the hole was nine feet deep.  So 14-year-old Kitty ran to the neighbor for a ladder so she could help her mother climb out of the um, accumulation.

It took years to finalize the case, but she won.  The judge blamed the property owner.


 In dealing with these, it should be observed that Mrs. Rush had no choice, when impelled by the calls of nature, but to use the facilities placed at her disposal by the landlord, to wit, a privy with a trap door in the floor, poorly maintained.

Now I imagine this had to be a humiliating experience, but if there’s one thing I’ve learned from my dad’s side of the family, it’s that we all thoroughly enjoy a good laugh.

And FUNNY is what I found when I researched this case on the internet.  It seems that the case of Mrs. Rush was a bit of a comic relief in Torts class.

On one of the blogs, a law student said he laughed until he cried.  When I asked my dad about it, he said his grandmother’s case has been the subject of limericks and poems in law school for decades.

But my favorite find was reading about law students showing up for their Torts final wearing t-shirts that said:


“Whenever you feel like you’re drowning in shit, remember Mrs. Rush.” 


Ah, sweet inspiration.

But there is something universal in this story, because in some way we ‘ve all experienced the crap dunk tank.  And we all know it’s not always easy to get out.  Sometimes we have to holler for help and sometimes we have to wait for a ladder.  But hopefully, like my tiny, great grandmother, we find a way to climb out of the accumulation.

Although, if you can, I recommend boots.

old outhouses


Tell me, have you done any family research?  What have you found in your history?

Have a great week!


 Check out Jennette Marie Powell She’s the author of several time travel and paranormal romance novels–and she has a Harley.


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30 thoughts on “What Happens in the Outhouse Doesn’t Always Stay in the Outhouse

  1. Inion N. Mathair

    Oh Coleen, we can’t begin to tell you how much we love coming to your blog & reading your posts. While most our taking this spiritual holiday with quiet reverence, including us, we enjoyed our first laugh of the day, after visiting our friend Coleen’s blog. So thanks. Only you could take a story that most would run from and try to hide this family jewel. And turn it into a perfect example of a lesson to be learned and applied in any facet of life. I think this is great! It’s the stuff that movies, books & family legends are made of.
    Also, we weren’t aware of the other show you were talking about and are most definitely going to be checking that one out. Sounds really cool. When we were done reading, we looked at each other and I said to Inion. What do you think? Should we dig? Both of us laughed and firmly stated that we might be afraid of what we find with the crazy Irish nuts we came from. The stories told by older generations alone were enough to keep us at bay for years. LOL.
    Will be sharing this post with all our friends, and once again, great job Coleen. By the way, just popped over and noticed a post on 4am writers blog with you. Have shared it and will be going over to take a peak at it. Hope you and yours have a wonderful holiday and remember to “wear the boots!” lol

    1. Coleen Patrick Post author

      Thanks, ladies! Happy to help with smiles and laughter, and that my “Irish nut” story could inspire you to look for yours. LOL All the best and thanks for your awesome support!

  2. Patricia Tilton

    I laughed until I cried. She looks so prim and proper, but she has an ornery look in her eye! Being pregnant — that wasn’t cool. Loved your sharing this story. My favorite show is “Who Do You Think You Are.” If you haven’t seen the PBS “Faces of America” with Dr. Henry Lewis Gates, you must buy it. Same thing, but he goes even more deeply into our origins and features Queen Noor, Meryl Streep. Yo-Yo Ma etc. You can watch a one hour segment at a time on the DVD– fabulous.

    My cousins have done extensive geneological work on my mother and father’s side. What I find fascinating is how there are patterns that trickle down through bloodlines over many generations — like there may be a lot of teachers, artists, activists etc. My mother’s side of the family has been traced back to 1545 in England. Her ancestors played a major role in the founding of two cities in Massachusetts, and played a significant role in the development of Ohio. On my father’s side, I knew there was a general in the family, but never realized that he was the 12th governor of Ohio, a congressman, senator, and state legislator. I worked for many years for the Ohio Senate walking through the halls of the state house and by his photo not knowing he was my 4th-5 great grandfather. He moved the state house from Chillicothe to Columbus. The State House was rennovated to its original status about a decade ago.

    Always a fun subject to talk about.

    1. Coleen Patrick Post author

      I find the patterns in our family history fascinating too. That’s so cool that you’ve found so much information too. Thanks for sharing–and you’re right about the Faces of America, great recommendation.

  3. Kristy K. James

    Have I read this before? Because if I didn’t, whoa…deja vu. Oh your poor grandmother! (said as I sit here laughing my butt off). I’d have sued, too. Can you imagine? It makes me want to take twenty showers in a row just thinking about it. 🙂

    Our family tree? Our only claims to ‘fame’ is that Sir Francis Drake hangs somewhere on our family tree. Oh…and that one of my great (or great-great) uncles may or may not have worked for The Purple Gang in Detroit. Part of the family says yes, the rest say no way…he couldn’t have done that. 🙂

    1. Coleen Patrick Post author

      Yes, it’s a pull from the archives. Or I could tell you it’s your deja vu, but then add in April Fools. 🙂 And yes, twenty showers sounds about right–along with a Purell rub down. And thanks for the history lesson as I googled the Purple Gang. That’s fascinating!

  4. tomwisk

    As a child we stayed at a cottage that did not have indoor plumbing. Daily trips to the outhouse were required. I feared falling in. It became uncomfortable. Finally I was persuaded that the seat wouldn’t collapse. It still remained an item of curiosity. There was a “Mr. Lime” who pushed a wheelbarrow through stopping at each outbuilding and dumping a shovelful of something inside. I checked but there was never a pile of anything in the outhouse. A neighbor told me “Mr. Lime” pushed a barrow full of lime and dumped a shovelful into the access hatch to facilitate decomposition.

  5. Lauri Meyers

    Crap Dunk Tank. The old CDT, I like to call it.

    Please tell me the property owners claimed a bear had eaten its way through the floor boards to access the accumulation? Or that little whipper snapper Jacob Mulligan was suspected for missing the bowl so many times the floor boards had no choice but to collapse. Or twas the added weight of the burden she carried to blame? I’m glad she won!

    Thank you for sharing a laugh and some history and for putting everything in perspective!

  6. Stacy S. Jensen

    i love this story. 🙂 I’m enjoying your book. I mentioned on the comment you left on my blog that I am happily one of your “readers” now. I’m still reading, but will leave a review once I reach the end. Enjoy the day, week and month. It’s spring here, so we may get snow tomorrow.
    Stacy S. Jensen recently posted..Taking a little breakMy Profile

  7. 4amWriter

    Very funny, and such a great story to share at family reunions! My family is quite like that, finding the humor in something humiliating. But that poor woman, and pregnant to boot! That t-shirt is hilarious!

    1. Coleen Patrick Post author

      It’s not easy for everyone to find their history. In the TV show, they seem to have unlimited access to genealogy experts. It’s also interesting to me how a lot of times the curiosity about our history doesn’t kick in until we’re older. At least that’s the way it’s been for me. Maybe it’s a getting older/mortality thing?

  8. Lynette M. Burrows

    Oh, my gosh. I remember this from before, but it’s still laugh-out-loud funny. But I gotta tell you, I NEED one of those T-shirts. It’ll help me remember that there’s crap, and then there’s CRAP! LOL.

  9. Alarna Rose Gray

    Hehe!! Coleen – this is some claim to fame! A pretty cool story though – and I’m glad to hear your great grandmother not only got out of the shit.. But won the case! What better inspiration is there?

    I’m dying to look into my family history – there are whispers of all kinds of things, and growing up on an island of convicts (Tasmania) you never know what you might find. A project for… one of these days. 🙂

  10. Scott L Vannatter

    I have not done near enough of my family’s history. Very soon, the oldest ones now will be gone and I will have to dig through websites and books and such.
    However, I know that Pres. McKinley was our cousin and was the Pres. assassinated, I believe, the soonest in his term. What celebrities I have!

    1. Coleen Patrick Post author

      Wow! Family history really can be a rich source of material. Makes me wonder what about our lives will be interesting to future generations. 🙂 Thanks, Scott!

  11. Inion N. Mathair

    Hi again Coleen. Just finished reading the interview on 4am writer. Fantastic answers. We especially like how you use your favorite excerpt in your book to help you during the rough times. We also enjoyed the excerpt you posted on 4am writers blog so much, that we just picked up our copy of “Come Back To Me.” Looking forward to a great read this weekend!

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