The – ahem – latrine situation at the Great Reunion

With more than 50,000 Civil War Veterans attending the Great Reunion – and tens of thousands of spectators also in attendance – a monumental task was at hand for all those involved in the planning and execution of this event. Specifically, a stupendous number of sanitation facilities needed to be constructed, deployed, and managed to meet the needs of more than 100,000 people in attendance during late June and early July of 1913.

According to the official report of the Pennsylvania Commission, this task was not only achieved but done in a manner which would be enviable today at, say, a major sporting event or mega-concert. In fact, let’s hear directly from the Commission:

For the attendees on the encampment grounds:

“There were constructed for the entire camp 90 latrines with a seating capacity of 3,476. The greater number of these latrines contained 40 seats each. The seat boxes were removable, fly tight, with covers so constructed as to remain closed when not in use. The pits were six feet in depth and nearly all contained water at all times. Many of these latrine pits were blasted out of solid rock. They, and all night cans, were burned out with crude oil and straw once daily. The latrines were kept freely limed at all times. They were never objectionable because of bad odor and were not frequented by flies, these being conspicuous by their absence. Each latrine had two urine troughs emptying into the pit. These were kept scrubbed and limed.”

For the public at large, within the borough of Gettysburg after it was determined that the “normal” day-to-day facilities were totally unsatisfactory to meet the needs of the expected crowds:

“A 12 hopper station was erected on Franklin street at the corner of Chambersburg street. A 12 hopper station was erected at South street, corner of Baltimore street, and a 12 hopper station was erected at Stratton street, corner of York street. An 18 hopper station was erected at West Middle street, near Baltimore street, and an 18 hopper station was erected on land of the Western Maryland Railway Company near its passenger station…A 24 hopper station was erected on land of the Philadelphia and Reading Railway Company near its passenger station.

Each Comfort Station was provided with flush closets, a wash room, paper towels, a bubbling fountain for drinking water on the male side and the female side, and a male and female attendant was always in charge.”

Note that in the report, the Commission went on to comment that “In fact, were accommodations again to be provided for as great a crowd no improvement could be made in selecting the sites for these six Comfort Stations.”

Finally, for veteran and spectator alike at the Big Tent:

“At the “Big Tent” where the anniversary exercises were held out in the country, the Department constructed two large latrines of the War Department type, one for men and the other for women. After the celebration the latrines were torn down and all of the material shipped away. A male and female attendant were stationed at these latrines during the celebration week. Disinfectants were used and the premises were maintained in the most satisfactory manner.”

So, summing it all up: tremendous effort went into helping guarantee that sanitation facilities for all of those who attended the Great Reunion on those blazingly hot, steamy late June and early July days of 1913 would at the very least not have to worry about a lack of facilities, or substandard cleanliness of those facilities.

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