An earth closet at the Watertown Plumbing Museum. PHOTO BY NICOLAUS CZARNECKI/METRO
Just west of Boston, in a town with a fitting name, a 150-year old former ice house is home to the world's largest collection of a unique kind of Americana.
The Plumbing Museum in Watertown is gearing up for a fundraising gala Thursday night in honor of a global holiday that promotes the crucial craft.
Tuesday was World Plumbing Day, an international event initiated by the World Plumbing Council celebrating the important role plumbing plays in the health and safety of modern society.
While the museum features exhibits about the history of the industry, its gala, “Looking Forward, Giving Back,” will focus on the future and the importance of educating the next generation of plumbers. Proceeds from Thursday's event will benefit the non-profit museum as well as support students pursuing a career in plumbing.
There is "no doubt" that people tend to overlook the importance of plumbers, according to Hugh Kelleher, executive director of the Plumbing Heating Cooling Contractors of Greater Boston.
A wall of international water closet signs line a wall of the Plumbing Museum. Photo: NICOLAUS CZARNECKI/METRO
"There has been a real trend over the last few decades away from the skill trades," said Kelleher. "Unlike places like Germany where there has been a real emphasis on apprenticeships. That's what you’re going to find over the next decade in the U.S., there will be an increased appreciation in the importance of the skill trades.”
Boston Mayor Martin J. Walsh was slated to be the evening's guest of honor, however a spokeswoman said he will not attend.
The museum offers free tours by appointment, and been a venue for birthday parties, weddings, showers and private functions.
"Most people who visit have no affiliation with plumbing, at all…People just hear about it and want to come and see it," said Linda Veiking, a museum curator with an obvious passion for plumbing memorabilia.
Though museums dedicated solely to toilets, including one in New Dehli, Watertown's collection flaunts a unique selection of commodes, sinks, restroom signs, tubs, faucets and toilet paper, and behind each porcelain piece, a story, some dating as far back to the 1860s.
"A lot of people who come by say, 'I never really thought about this stuff'," said Tom Palange, a marketing director for the museum.
"In terms of World Plumbing Day, a lot of it is about raising awareness for health and sanitation," he said, pointing to a vintage poster advertising the plumber's creed: "The plumber protects the health of the nation."
"If you ask an old-time plumber to repeat it, they know it," said Cannistraro.