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This Day in History, 1919: Great Boston Molasses Flood

Today is the 90th anniversary of:


"Shortly after noon on January 15, 1919, a fifty-foot-tall steel tank filled with 2.3 million gallons of molasses collapsed on Boston’s waterfront, disgorging its contents in a fifteen-foot-high wave of molasses that traveled at thirty-five miles per hour. When the tide receded, a section of the city’s North End had been transformed into a war zone. The Great Boston Molasses Flood claimed the lives of twenty-one people and scores of animals, injured more than a hundred, and caused widespread destruction."

The above is quoted from author Stephen Puleo, who has published a wonderful book about the flood called "Dark Tide: The Great Boston Molasses Flood of 1919." It tells the story of what happened and also places the event in historical context. For more information on the book, you can visit his website at http://www.stephenpuleo.com.


:) That's an event (and speed) I like to bring up as often as possible, 'cause it's SO COOL. Also, why I never say "slow as molasses" since 35mph isn't slow unless you're talking about a fighter plane or a spaceship or something.
I'm not sure if I would term it "cool," given that it killed a bunch of people. But it's definitely a fascinating event. Puleo's book goes into a lot of detail about the time period, and how society was afraid of anarchists in the same way our current world worries about terrorists. In the legal case to determine liability, the company that owned the tank claimed that anarchists had set off a bomb inside (a claim for which there was no evidence).
I've heard the claim that on hot days you can still smell molasses in some parts of the North End. I'm not sure if that's a ghost story type claim - "And they say you can still here her in this forest on moonless nights, wailing for her lost head!" or if the molasses was so pervasive that it did get into wooden timbers and other porous structures and resulted in a faint molasses smell for several years afterward.
I suspect that there was a lingering odor for a few years, and by simple physics there must be traces of molasses present even today. But it's probably not enough for the average human nose to detect.
A good book, I highly recommend it.
The book has a special place on my book shelf. I still smell molasses when ever I go to Langone Park, but that might be from years of people around me telling me that they smelled molasses. I wonder if as the neighborhood cycles from old families with history to newcomers if the stories will fade. Maybe in a generation or less, people will stop smelling molasses?

I had relatives living in the North End back then, none of the dead, but I wonder if any of them were injured or witnessed the flood?
Yeah; if y'all weren't heading out to Arisia I'd be inviting you over for another Shabbat of Much Molasses.

Instead, I've obtained some sugar cane and will be teaching the kids about where that white stuff they pile on their morning cereal (hey, I don't care, it's their teachers' problem!) comes from.
Someone on one of the MBTA forums my brother posts to made a mock T-alert announcing which traisn would have been diverted because of the flood.
Reminds me of the recent coal ash disaster in TN. It's covering almost 300 acres of ground not to speak of the downstream impacts. If that had occurred at a different time, there might have been a large number of deaths and direct casualties.

TVA Disaster Spreads Far and Wide - Erin Brockovich and Robin Greenwald - Huffington Post - 13 Jan 09

"When I first arrived on the site, I was pretty quiet. It took a while to absorb what I was looking at. I knew there was a lake but an entire area was gone. I kept wondering 'Where did the water go?'

I couldn't decide if it looked more like a tornado had gone through, a mudslide, landslide, maybe a volcano erupted or a tidal wave. It is now a 'moonscape.' The landscape has completely changed. It is almost unidentifiable.

Watching TV never gives you an idea of the extent of damage. It's only when you stand there that you can actually feel the magnitude."

December 2016

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