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Life Preservers and Facilities

 
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Old 10-14-2013, 10:53 AM
 
Join Date: Oct 2013
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Default Life Preservers and Facilities

My question is something of a delicate one. I am writing a dissertation chapter on Herman Melville's The Confidence-Man, which takes place aboard a mythical Mississippi steamboat. At the conclusion of the novel, an old man carries "a brown stool with a curved tin compartment underneath" which he thinks or is rather told is a life preserver. Critical lore would have it that this stool/life preserver is also (or perhaps only) a chamber-pot.

Jeffery Auerbach's book The Great Exhibition of 1851: A Nation on Display cites a display of a large luxury couch that doubled as a safety device, which also had a sealable airtight chamber pot annexed to it, which could also be used as a life preserver. Neither the photo nor the description resemble the "brown stool" in the least, but this is the only extra-textual evidence that the field has so far come up with that would point to something like the "brown stool" really existing.

I am suspicious of this, and have been unable to find much of anything regarding what was passing for life-preservers on mid-century riverboats, or for that matter, chamber pots. I tend to think that the stool is really just a stool that doubles as a life-preserver, as it does not seem to me that chamber pots would double as passenger stools in a common area. Any information you could possible give me in regards to this or any lead you could suggest I chase down would be greatly appreciated.
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