While theme park history is heavily documented through concept artwork, photographs, music and film, there are very few records of smells.
Liam Findlay, an attraction designer who studies the history of attraction scents, encourages people to imagine: “What if we knew exactly what people smelt during the opening day of Disneyland in 1955? The hot, newly-laid ground, indicating just how recently construction had ended. Perfumes suggesting how wealthy (or not) the average guest was. Cigarette clouds reflecting health awareness at the time. Was the train stinkier and less environmentally friendly? Was waste disposal efficient? Maybe there were flavours people had longed for during the recent war—increasing satisfaction differently to how they would today. Comparing the smellsof the past with the smells of today can unlock so many brilliant insights!’
In an attempt to amend the lack of smell records in theme park history, Liam has started to create ‘aroma time capsules’ in the form of maps. Visiting different theme parks, he is pinpointing the locations of the smells he encounters, and compiling the maps he makes in a project called The Smell of Immersion. The first smell map explores Thorpe Park Resort (one note suggests how anxiety levels in a ride queue are boosted by the stink of a nearby plant). Other maps will explore parks across Europe, as well as the likes of Disneyland and Universal Studios.
“My hope in making these smell maps is that in ten or twenty years, we can look back and consider how things have evolved in culture and in theme park design. Will there be a lack of sweet smells in parks because of changing health attitudes? Will food aromas be more multicultural? Will the rubber whiff of over-the-shoulder coaster restraints become extinct due to industry developments? Changing plant scents might even reflect changes in global warming.
“I’d also love to encourage people to think more about the flavourful world they can experience with their noses, beyond the deserved love for Pirates of the Caribbean water! Smell plays a big role in theme park design, it has a huge influence over our emotions, our behaviour and our memories, and it has tonnes more potential going forward.”
As well as designing for themed attractions, Liam is a consultant for theme park scent company AromaPrime. In his spare time, he is researching for a book about how attractions have used smells throughout history. However, it is the academic project Odeuropa which inspired The Smell of Immersion map project.
“Odeuropa is an amazing project, made up of specialists in smell history, and it explores the role of smell in museums. This covers both preserving smells from the past (like we do with paintings and sculptures), as well as using smells to engage visitors. Through Odeuropa, I met Dr Kate McLean, and it is her own smell maps of public spaces that inspired my project. I am not an academic like the members of Odeuropa, but their pursuit of discovery always inspires me.”
Both for his book research and The Smell of Immersion project, Liam invites people to get in touch on social media (using his handle @Pevalwen) if they have any of their own theme park pong memories that stand out to them!