Building 51 | Building 51 | March 31, 2015 – Glessner House Museum
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March 31, 2015 – Glessner House Museum

Unearthing Chicago

Over two hours of talking and sustained concentration left me utterly exhausted but satisfied, knowing that i managed to communicate a single important message: urban archaeological research in chicago is virtually non-existent, and an especially overlooked area of the field is in documentation of 19th century household privy pits.


Hopefully with the publication of “unearthing chicago,” filled with case studies pertaining to various dig sites and the systematic documentation of remarkable artifacts (viewed as rubbish by the chicagoans of an earlier time), interested readers will gain a greater appreciation of the rich and varied scope of objects retrieved from these trash pits, and insight into the day-to-day lives of these people.


I spent a great deal of time discussing the john kent russell house (1855) privy pit, filled with contents and a unique circular-shaped tongue and groove pine wood floor interlocked with surrounding staves and riveted wrought iron hoops. Discovering that privy “vault” or pit inspired me to devote an entire year to becoming a regular at excavation sites all around chicago, with the hopes that i would collect enough data or “case studies” to publish this second book “unearthing chicago.” With my final dig being the most important and earliest known urban privy pit in chicago, i felt this was a perfect time to end the collection-of-data phase and begin putting the book together.


Perhaps the highlight of the evening was meeting john kent russell’s great, great grandson, who reached out to me while i was salvaging the house. It was a pleasant surprise to see him in the audience and later meet and greet him after my lecture. I hope to work with him in the future as i continue to research this remarkable house long after it was brought down and tossed into a landfill.