You Could Feel Atlanta in Your Olfactory

“You can feel it in your olfactory,” as Loudoun Wainwright famously phrased it.

…which is the subject of this editorial in the Atlanta Intelligencer of July 2, 1864. Under title of “The City,” the paper’s editors commented on a big rainstorm that suddenly hit the city the day before, causing everybody in the streets to scurry for cover.

Then they proceeded to a topic which they called:


There is an enormous perfumery establishment spread out over the surface of our goodly city. Not only seventy truly and well-defined stinks are appreciable to the obfactories of our citizens, but in numerous places there are scents as though the triple distilled extract of the quintessence of stink was being brewed there. Numbers of yards in the rear of buildings are perfect seeth-pools of filth and nastiness. The noses of he most hardened wagon-yard men curl at he overpowering odor. The gutters are


Their condition is a living, stinking disgrace to the custodians of the city’s welfare. No city of equal pretensions or one-tenth the importance that Atlanta has assumed in our country, is so thoroughly neglected in all the necessary attentions which healthfulness requires. A sanitary commission from Tophet would bring to judgment and punish the guardians of our city for wilfully permitting such outrageous nuisances and neglect of the proper sanitary precautions against Bronze Jack and Cholera.


On Whitehall street, is not the least stinking place in the city, It is said that even the rats have become disgusted with the filth and stench that has accumulated beneath those horrible planks and abandoned the neighborhood. All doubts on the subject of horrible stinks can be dispelled by a visit and a view of the gutters along side of the railroad.

We hope the sanitary board will nose out these festering spots, these death pools, on the fair face as well as fame of our beautiful city and abate their malignance and dangerous, poisonous exhalations. For fear that some of the city guardians may not understand that last big word, and that they may not have access to a lexicon–sometimes called a dictionary, we inform them that its definition is unhealthy, sickness breeding stink; stinking stink-k-k-k.

At least Wainwright’s malodorous source was a dead skunk in the middle of the road!

8 Responses to You Could Feel Atlanta in Your Olfactory

  1. Steve – A very descriptive article. This was before the Yankees took over so I wonder how it smelled in late fall 1864? Some parts of Atlanta still haven’t changed to this day. Glad to see you are working on numerous Atlanta projects as I belonged to Atlanta CWRT from 1988-1998 before moving to Winchester Va.

    1. You’re right about Atlanta today, John. Recall what John Shelton Reed once wrote: WHEN I SEE THE SKYLINE OF ATLANTA TODAY, I KNOW WHAT 250,000 CONFEDERATE SOLDIERS DIED TRYING TO PREVENT.”

  2. I read this quickly before looking at the date – July 2, ’64. I was expecting something related to the fires that burned much of the city in the wake of the battle. The fact that the city was in such straights before then is a bit of a surprise. Perhaps a reflection of neglect related to the impoverishment of southern cities as the war progressed? Perhaps a symptom of many people leaving due to the approaching Union army? It would be interesting to learn
    more about root cause.

    1. I can only judge, Dale, based on what I’ve read about wartime Atlanta, that the city was under strain in early ’64 due to the many refuges from other occupied places who now had streamed into the city, taxing public services while city officials had fewer employees with which to provide them. Best authority on this subject, though, is Prof. Wendy Hamand Venet of Georgia State University. Check out her book of two years ago.

      1. Steve: I had the opportunity to review her book. It’s nicely done. If I recall correctly, by this point a fair amount of permanent residents had long since left. I suspect that abandoned properties/businesses did nothing to alleviate the stench.

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