No, I’m not making this up. The Molasses Flood of 1919 is a real, well-documented event. It seems funny on the surface, but it was one of those horrifying, traumatic events with which Bostonians are, unfortunately, well acquainted.
It all began with a huge tank for storing molasses, sort of like the big water tanks and grain silos with which we are more familiar. Owned by the United States Industrial Alcohol Company, the tank on Commercial Street was 58 feet high and more than 90 feet in diameter, holding 2,300,000 gallons of molasses.
I’m not crazy about molasses, and it would take me quite a while to use up a gallon. But two million gallons? The distillery planned to use it in manufacturing rum.
|Taken January 16, 1919, the day after the disaster. The molasses tank was located at about the center of the photo.|
The unseasonably warm weather on January 15 changed the plans of everyone in Boston. The owners later claimed the explosion was caused by sabotage, but that story didn’t hold up. The court later ruled that the tank was overfilled and not adequately reinforced—some people said it was poorly constructed in the first place and had been leaking molasses for some time.
What is known for sure is that the temperature had hovered near zero, but on that day, it rose into the mid-forties. Some people think the warm air caused the molasses to start fermenting and expand. Whatever the cause, about 12:40 in the afternoon, the giant tank exploded, sending pieces of the metal flying in all directions and releasing a surge of molasses that formed a wave, reported from eight to fifteen feet high. The wall of molasses rushed down the streets at 35 miles an hour. People couldn’t outrun it. Huge pieces of the tank hit buildings. One large piece landed in a park 200 feet away. Another hit a railroad piling, taking out a piece of an elevated train line.
|Some of the rubble from the tank. The molasses was to be shipped to a distillery in Cambridge.|
People hurried to the area to try to help. Cadets came from the USS Nantucket, a training ship docked nearby. Policemen, firemen, Red cross workers, army and navy personnel, and other volunteers came and found molasses still two to three feet deep in some places. If they tried to walk in it, they got stuck, or it sucked their boots off.
|Taken January 15 as rescue workers arrived.|
They found it hard to get near the scene.
The initial clean-up lasted several days with thousands of people at work, but the city wasn’t molasses-free for a long time. The city had its fire boat spray streams of water on the debris. Salt water was sprayed on the streets and houses to get the molasses off. Cellars for blocks around were filled with molasses and had to be pumped, which took months. The harbor was said to look black with molasses well into the summer. When people walked in the area, their shoes stuck to the cobblestones. And the smell lingered. They say for years you could smell it on a hot day.
In memory of the Great Molasses Flood, today I’m doing a surprise giveaway of my novel The Crimson Cipher, in which you’ll learn about some other strange but true events that took place a few years earlier, in 1915 (paper or e-book). Comment below to enter.
Susan Page Davis is the author of more than forty published novels. A history major, she’s always interested in the unusual happenings of the past. She’s a two-time winner of the Inspirational Readers’ Choice Award, and also a winner of the Carol Award and the Will Rogers Medallion, and a finalist in the WILLA Awards and the More Than Magic Contest. Visit her website at: www.susanpagedavis.com .
Oh, my, I just couldn't imagine what a sticky mess that was and what a terrible tragedy.ReplyDelete
It was one of the odder man-made disasters, for sure.Delete
My kids poured syrup all over the floor once when they were small. What a mess it made. I can't imagine having to clean up an entire city! kkakins at gmail dot comReplyDelete
Oh, Karla, I know! Imagine your cellar was full of molasses, and no one could come pump it for two or three months!Delete
That IS a strange, but terrible catastrophe. What a horrible mess to clean up! What an awful way to die!ReplyDelete
I would love to read your book and learn about more odd events like this. Who knew history was full of such fascinating stories! :)
I agree, Bethany. The Crimson Cipher is about things that happened in the US prior to World War I--not things like this, but things like industrial sabotage and catching spies and other intriguing events we rarely hear about nowadays.Delete
How interesting!! Would love to read about some more strange events!! firstname.lastname@example.orgReplyDelete
Thanks, Tammy! When I started researching for The Crimson Cipher and reading nonfiction books written in the 1914-1919 period, I was amazed at how little I knew about the period, and how quickly we forget!Delete
Oh my word, I cannot even imagine that and I am trying to! I can see how it would take years to clean up - that stuff is beyond sticky and hard when cooled. What an odd disaster. Thanks for sharing!ReplyDelete
farmygirl at hotmail dot com
Yup. This is one of those "How could I not know this?" events!Delete
Wow! That was a fascinating story, Susan. Who would have ever thought! Thanks for sharing with us.ReplyDelete
Thanks, Debbie. They have a sign at the site, commemorating this event. A friend who had lived nearby mentioned it to me in passing, and I said, "WHAT? Whatever are you talking about?" That's what started me looking into it--it seemed so unbelievable.Delete
That is a very interesting piece of history I did not know. I am looking forward to your book to learn some more. Thank you for the chance to win.ReplyDelete
griperang at embarqmail dot com
Thanks, Angela. The more I dig into history, the more interesting things I find!Delete
What an interesting bit of history, I can't imagine the resulting mess!ReplyDelete
Besides the initial horror of it, I'm sure that's what everyone remembered.Delete
I've never heard of this before. What a horrible, nasty mess. I hate getting syrup on my hands when I eat pancakes. I can't begin to imagine so much molasses and how much work it was to clean up.ReplyDelete
One of the side benefits of industry. I think there were many more industrial accidents than we know, but most were on a smaller scale than this.Delete
This is the first time I've ever heard about this, too. Sounds awful in so many ways!ReplyDelete
I just keep thinking, "At least they had plenty of water close by."ReplyDelete
I love learning about unusual tidbits of history. It is hard to imagine just how much molasses that would be and I am sure it thickened over time. I as sure that story was passed down with "I can remember when..." or "My parents told me...". I love your stories and hope to win this one.ReplyDelete
Definitely one for the grandkids. Can't imagine the smell that summer...and the bugs ...Delete
As others have said, first time I've ever heard of this, but WOW! So much molasses stored in one location, and then for the tank to explode. Mind-boggling!ReplyDelete
Thanks, Pam. Seems like one of those preventable things ... and yet, at the time, probably no one conceived of such a thing happening. Makes me appreciate our accumulated knowledge--we CAN learn from history!Delete
I'll have to impress my native Bostonian sister-in-law by chatting about this. LOL Truth is, I've never heard of it! But now I have. :) Fascinating and horrifying all at once. Poor horses!ReplyDelete
Yes, the idea of people and horses drowning in molasses was a bit much for me too. This event does seem like something we should have heard more about.ReplyDelete
Amazing! That was really interesting, Susan. Thanks for sharing. I can't even imagine the sticky mess it was! And of course, it's sad about the many people injured or killed. It surely caused much hardship for many.ReplyDelete
may_dayzee (at) yahoo (dot) com
I love history and took history classes in high school and college, but this is the first time I've heard about this tragedy. Wow, this is an amazing posting. Read your books and they are great! Please enter me in your contest!ReplyDelete
This is just crazy...I remember hearing about it but not in this much detail - thanks for the lesson in things that are horrible and what a mess! truckredford(at)Gmail(dot)comReplyDelete
Kay and Eliza, thanks for coming by! Yes, this was one of those things that you hope never happens again!ReplyDelete
Oh my goodness, you are right never heard of this one, what a mess that must have been to clean up..you ladies sure find some interesting history for us to learn about...ReplyDelete
I am suprised too to learn that it would explode...reminded me of the West Texas explosion. It seems like there is something always exploding and making a mess or damaging so much. near our area the sugar refinery had explosion and much burn victims.
thanks for sharing..
I guess it's a hazard of the industry, Paula. It certainly was a horrible thing!ReplyDelete
Wow, Susan. That's an amazing story! How awful to try to clean the mess up. And how horrific to be caught in it. I learned another new fact of history today. Thanks.ReplyDelete
So interesting! Thanks for the post adn the giveaway!ReplyDelete
Thank you, Marilyn and Ladette. I see that I didn't put a limit on the time for the giveaway, so I'll leave it open through Saturday night, and on Sunday I'll draw the winner. As they say, sometimes the truth is stranger than fiction!ReplyDelete
Very interesting...thanks so much Susan! And thanks for the giveaway!I really love your books!ReplyDelete
Boston has had it's share of odd disasters. I had read about the molasses flood in another Christian fiction book several years ago. It is such an odd disaster, if it hadn't had such serious consequences it would be extremely funny. I love your books and would love to read this one. Thanks for the wonderful giveaway.
Wow, amazing. I know I am late on here, but just wanted to let you know that I enjoyed the post!ReplyDelete
That is such an oddball but interesting fact of history! That's the kind of story that is just so ridiculous and so outrageous that you'd find it in a child's story book. How is that not as well known as the tea party? If I had read about that in history in grade school I would've loved to read more about it or done a book report on it!ReplyDelete
Thanks for your post and this awesome history lesson!
Good morning, night owls! I do think a lot of the most interesting things are not in our school books. I love that we have a place like this to talk about them.ReplyDelete
Wow... I've read a lot of books, but I've never read about that event!ReplyDelete
Your book Crimson Cipher sounds intriguing. I would love to win it for Alamance Christian School's library. :) Now about that molasses.....ReplyDelete
I have never heard that story. I grew up in the port city of Wilmington, NC only 4 blocks from the river front. Not too far away were large storage tanks of gasoline and also of molasses. Of course, even as a little girl, I knew that it would be terrible if the gas tanks exploded or started to leak. But then I wondered, in little girl fashion, what would happen if the molasses tanks leaked. Molasses can taste mighty fine on a hot, buttered, fluffy Southern biscuit. But too much of a good thing is too much and I just wondered about that HUGE tank and what a mess it would make. Of course, I didn't consider a danger to everyone and everything in its path should it actually explode.
Food (or sticky) for thought.
P.S. My husband who also grew up in Wilmington, said the tanks in Wilmington had leaked. He didn't know how much, but had heard stories of their leaking.ReplyDelete
Very interesting, Vera. And another coincidence--I used to live in Wilmington, NC for a short time. I read in my research that the tank that exploded in Boston had been leaking and people had been collecting the drips for their own use.ReplyDelete
Thanks to everyone who took part. The winner of The Crimson Cipher is Ladette Kerr. I will email you privately, Ladette.ReplyDelete
Thank you so much Susan!ReplyDelete