Memphis Fast Fiction Home

Under the yellow glow of the street lights, some of the shades of green people wore started to look more like brown. I mentioned this to my friend, who laughed back, “It aint’ the lights – they’ve got beer sweats.”

Sure enough, as one of them stumbled past us, I got a nose full of cheap bear and body odor.

The air was cool and crisp this Saint Patrick’s Day, and a few of the revelers had obviously over dressed. Their bundles of scarves and heavy jackets now becoming unbearable as the free-flowing alcohol raised their body temperature and the crowd packed in around them.

“You know, at certain points of my life – points I’m not proud of, mind you – I often wonder what forty thousand beer-drunk people would smell like.” I announce, unprompted. “And I can say, without any reservation, if that detestable odor was a preview of what’s to come – we’d best leave now.”

My friend held up his wristband and pointed to his cup full of green beer. “But, I’ve still got this, and they’ve still got more of this.”

I laughed and shook my head, “Then I highly recommend you drink until you cannot smell.”

Memphis Note
In the 1970s, the Saint Patrick’s Day parties at Overton Square were massive events. Tens of thousands of people would swarm onto Madison, blocking traffic for nearly a dozen blocks. But, as times changed and Overton Square became less popular, the party died out. Hopefully with the revival of the Square on the horizon, Saint Patrick’s Day will be a big event again.

Matthew Trisler

When they got back to camp after patrol, the tar fires were already roaring. Thick, black smoke rolled in to the air, and an unmistakable smell filled their noses. The effluvium from the fires was supposed ward off malaria from bogs all around the city.

Murphy and Luther broke off from the rest of their company and headed toward the weathered canvas tent they slept in.

“I hate that stink,” Luther said dropping his pack to the ground.

“Yep, but it’s much preferred to crappin’ my guts out while a fever burns the rest of me.” Replied Murphy, doing the same.

Luther grunted a half-hearted agreement as he peeled one of his boots off.

“Pshoo!” Murphy exclaimed at the smell coming from Luther’s boots. “You carryin’ a dead skunk in those?

“That odor ain’t nothin‘ more than the evidence of a hard day’s work, you sissy.” Luther growled defensively.

“Hell, Luther, those ain’t boots. They’re our own personal tar fire. Ain’t no way we’re catchin’ anything with those stink pots in here. ‘Course, the stench might suffocate us before the dawn.”

“Don’t worry ‘bout the boots. I might be the one doin’ the suffocatin’ you don’t shut your trap.”

Memphis Note
In addition to yellow fever, malaria was a constant threat during the summer months as mosquitoes spawned in the stagnant water swamps around Memphis. During the Civil War, when there were large numbers of soldiers sleeping outdoors, the disease was kept at bay by burning tar fires. The horrible stink apparently repelling the disease carrying mosquitoes.

Martin Dinstuhl

“What are we looking for out here again?” I asked as I followed behind my graduate instructor, bushwhacking through what I was sure was private property in north Shelby county.

“The long lost Odiferous Belt.” He shouted back, unfazed by the bizarreness of his own words.

I how ever, was not. His words stunned me momentarily, like a blow to the head. “Wait! The what now?” I hurried along, trying to catch up to him.

“About a hundred years ago, there was a stretch of our fair city that stunk up to high heaven every summer.” He stopped walking as he began to tell his story. “Everyone thought it was swamp gas, their neighbor’s trash or something.”

“Ok…,” I said, unsure of where his story was leading.

“Turns out, it was some reddish-purple beetles that were responsible for the stink. They’d come out every summer, looking for stuff to eat on the ash trees. They’d stink up the whole city.”

“So, we’re looking for beetles?”

“Long lost beetles!” He shouted, enthusiastically. “Heh, you know what the smell was? The stink the beetles were squirting out?”


“Cyanide.” He said with a devilish grin before stomping off into the brush.

Memphis Note
Before the city pushed outward into what we now think of as Midtown, there was a regular ring of odor that popped up each summer. After some investigation, it was discovered that the smell was coming horned beetles that were found climbing ash trees. To this day, we don’t know the exact type of beetle, only those similar to it in the area.