Currituck County Tales and Legends

The Privies
Contributed by Robert Etheridge

        They were a group of teenagers who called themselves “The South Point Boys” and they roamed the southern peninsula of Currituck in the first part of the twentieth century. They were known to get into all sorts of mischief and had been reprimanded by the authorities as well as their parents. Their leader was a robust boy named Leland.
        At a meeting of the gang one summer day, Leland suggested that they should do something that would really get folks worked up. Various schemes were offered and turned down by Leland. “Here is what we are going to do,” he said. The other boys listened and plans were quickly made.
        So over the next few weeks a series of irritating vandalisms occurred. A farmer would get up in the morning, get dressed and step outside only to find that his outhouse had been tipped over! A fisherman would discover the same thing, as would a great many other people. The vandalism went on for several weeks.
        People were becoming very irritated. Sometimes after the work and expense of replacing and repairing a privy, it would be knocked over the next night. Unable to discover on their own who was responsible for these acts, they appealed to the sheriff. The sheriff promised that he would investigate.
        About a week later the gang assembled and Leland stated that it was time to take their mischief to a higher level. The church had a magnificent compartmentalized privy that was the finest in the county. It was decided that this outstanding outhouse would be the next target and a date was set for the deed.
        Two nights later, armed with ropes and pry bars, the boys sneaked away from their homes and met at the churchyard. There was no moon and it was pitch black. Only starlight illuminated the scene for what was to be the “South Point Boys” greatest trick yet. They set about their difficult task. The privy was well built and it required a lot of work with the pry bars to loosen it up from its foundation. When that was done, they tied ropes around the structure and all five applied all their strength. It required many tries. Several times the ropes were repositioned and retied. Finally it came over. They did not scream out with glee, but did snicker loudly.
        Suddenly the bright light of a kerosene lantern lit the pitch-black night. Behind the lantern was the formidable figure of the sheriff. The boys were frozen for a moment and that moment was enough for the sheriff to identify all of them. Then, like ants scurrying from a disturbed anthill, they ran in every direction. Four disappeared into the night. It was Leland who made the mistake of running the wrong way. Before he knew what was happening, he found himself falling. Down, down, down he went and he ended up in the privy pit!
        The sheriff walked over and shone his lantern down. He chuckled, “Well, Leland, it looks like you need a hand to get out of this mess!” Looking around, he procured some of the rope that the boys had used and, making a loop, lowered it down to Leland. “Put this over your head and then down under your arms, Leland, and I'll pull you up.”
        Leland did as he was told and the physically strong sheriff brought him up out of the hole. “Well, I guess I have the right to just arrest you, but I think we will go around and see your father first.” With that statement, the sheriff led the boy as he would a mule, pulling on the rope when he got a little stubborn. The sheriff made sure that he was up wind of the youngster!
        They arrived at Leland's home after about a half hour's walk and the sheriff knocked on the front door. Leland's father came to the door. Seeing the sheriff, he became alarmed. The sheriff simply nodded toward the end of the rope he was holding and explained the situation. The old man turned red and asked the sheriff if he could have the boy for the night. The sheriff received assurance from the father that he would bring the boy in once the morning light came, gave the end of the rope to Leland's dad and departed.
        It was a warm night, which was fortunate for Leland. His father said not a word, but went quickly into the shed and brought out a sack. He led the boy down to the sound and told him to take off “those filthy clothes”. Leland meekly obeyed. His father then brought out the lye soap and a horsehair brush, which he had brought along in the sack. “Now, boy, scrub yourself and do it well because you are not coming out of there until I can stand to be near you!” The water was cold and Leland was shaking, but it was not entirely from the cool water! Leland scrubbed!
        In the morning, his father took Leland straight to the sheriff's home. Leland was surprised to see his four pals already there along with their fathers. The sheriff had visited each of the boys' fathers the night before. “Well, gentlemen, I'm glad to see you all here. I need your help in figuring out the proper punishment for these boys. I take it you are all agreed that some sort of punishment is required?” All the fathers nodded and a couple said that they had already thought about what was in store for their sons.
        “Well, I think a good way to start would be to put the church privy back exactly like you found it—don't you think so, boys?”
        And so it was done. It took a couple of days to undo the work of that infamous night, but in the end the church privy was as good as new. Then the boys had to go to each family that had suffered from their vandalism and apologize and repair any damage that they had done.
        Leland's dad and the sheriff discussed the lye soap and horsehair brush ordeal that Leland had been forced to undergo the night before and the sheriff decided that Leland had received enough punishment. His hide was red for at least two months!
        By the way, the “South Point Boys” was disbanded and never mentioned again!

        I knew Leland (not his real name) when I was young. He became an honored citizen of the county, serving in the Coast Guard and then establishing one of the best-run farms on the southern peninsula. As a boy, I visited this farm and have fond memories of its beauty that included, oddly enough, one of the finest privies around. It was scrupulously maintained and well anchored to protect it from the wind and weather—and teenaged boys with a will for mischief!



Marty Holland