After reading yesterday’s entry about Indian pudding, a friend told us that the post had made her think of one of the stranger historical events that she remembered learning about as a child: the great Boston molasses flood. We were ashamed to admit that we only had a vague recollection of hearing about it on a long-ago field trip to the North End. Feeling chastened, we checked out the Wikipedia entry for the incident and all we have to say is, in a manner not unlike Joey Lawrence on Blossom, whoa! The Boston molasses flood is, perhaps, history’s weirdest disaster.
On January 15, 1919, a tank at the Purity Distilling Factory on Commercial Street was holding over two million gallons of molasses, the sweet and sticky syrup that is a byproduct of sugar-making. With no warning save for a brief noise that witnesses reported sounding like a machine gun, the tank exploded sending a tidal wave of molasses between eight and fifteen feet tall through the North End. A tidal wave of molasses! Almost 160 people were injured and 21were killed from asphyxiation in the molasses. Although we’ve never noticed it, some claim that the North End still smells of the sticky sweet stuff.
Say what you will about the North End (touristy! overpriced!), but at least these days, you can walk around without getting drowned in a sugar byproduct. Ah, progress.
Boston Molasses Disaster [Wikipedia]
Without Warning, Molasses in January Surged Over Boston [Eric Potpischil’s Molasses Disaster Pages]