Friday, May 02, 2008

Smelling History

The High Point Literary League hosted Erik Larson this week. Author of The Devil in The White City and Thunderstruck, I found him entertaining. Especially because he put us in a time machine and transported us back to turn of the century Chicago. Can you imagine?

A writer of historical fiction, Mr. Larson evoked our senses ... especially that of smell. "If you opened this time machine," he said, "and stepped out into the Chicago of the past, the first thing your mind would register is that of horse." Yes, horse. He pointed out that during this Gilded Age in Chicago, there were over a million horses at any one time in downtown Chicago. Each horse excreted 30 gallons of urine a day. Allow your sense of smell to take over. Nasty.

Ha! It made me think of our country's history and how technology and our modes of travel have changed not only the landscape, but what we hear and smell.

Evidently, back then, every man smoked cigars. (Probably to cover their own smell or that of their horse.) But Mr. Larson was quick to point out those were the two most dominant smells of any city. Horses and cigars.

As a writer, we must not forget to titillate our readers with the sense of smell. There's no more powerful sense that can pick us up and transport us back in time.

Smelling Chicago of the past was fun. It made me think of how other smells bring back memories of my own past. Like opening a box of Pampers- (My early years as a new mom.) A freshly mowed lawn- (Summertime as a kid.) The inside of a freezer- (My grandma's basement.)

Smelling history. It's like stepping into your own time machine.

Blessings to you and yours.

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