I am a Tombstone Tourist: someone who loves to wander cemeteries. I find it akin to visiting a museum: an opportunity to enjoy rarely seen sculpture, intricate carvings, and amazing architecture, all in a tranquil outdoor setting. This blog is about cemetery culture, art, history, issues of death, and genealogy - subjects of current relevance. I usually find something that intrigues me and makes me want to dig deeper. Care to join me? Read on...
Friday, January 11, 2019
The Great Molasses Flood of 1919
Boston Globe Headline
years ago, Boston was deluged in one of the stickiest messes it’s ever had
to face. Around midday on January 15, 1919, a 58-foot tall storage tank at the Purity
Distilling Company, a subsidiary of the United States Industrial Alcohol
Company, burst apart releasing more than two million gallons of hot molasses. According to The
Boston Globe, there was a “tidal wave of death and destruction stalking through
the North End.” The sudden release of millions of gallons of molasses sent
waves of the sticky substance surging between 15 and 40 feet high through the area.
Why were millions of gallons of molasses being stored in Boston? The molasses was held waiting to be processed into
industrial alcohol, according to United States Industrial Alcohol
The North End of Boston Covered in Deadly Molasses
Known as the Great Molasses Flood,
the syrup covered people, horses and automobiles. Workers ran for cover as
rivets popped loose from the tank and peppered the area like bullets. Structures
were knocked off their foundations including the fire station - home to Fire
Boat 31. The Boston Elevated had just passed the tank before it burst. Molasses then surged
out leveling the elevated trestle with a wave of syrup as the tracks fell to the
Twenty-one people were killed; two
were 10-year-old children walking home for lunch. Seventeen more were nearby workers.
Most died of suffocation as the molasses congealed quickly in the cool winter air
hampering rescue efforts. More than 150 people were injured. Dozens of horses
were killed in the flood of syrup. Railroad clerk Walter Merrithew was trapped
against a freight shed where he hung several feet above the ground watching
horses trying to outrun the rushing brown substance. Rescue attempts took four
days, and clean up of the area took another six months to complete. Damage to
the city was estimated at around $100 million.
Parts of the Exploded Tank
The court battle was one of the longest
in the history of Massachusetts. Rumors of anarchists with a bomb were floated
by US Industrial Alcohol Company, parent company of Purity Distilling. Others
said the molasses had fermented in the tank, which led to the eruption. More
than 3,000 witnesses were called to testify including engineers, scientists, and
metallurgists. It took six years before investigators ruled that shoddy tank
construction was the cause of the explosion. The United States Industrial Alcohol Company was
found to be at fault and ordered to pay $1 million dollars in damages.
In 2015, researchers determined that
the disaster was indeed caused by the thin steel used in the design of the tank. The
casualty rate was aided by the chilly winter air, which caused the molasses to
thicken quickly trapping people as it rolled through the neighborhood.
Today the location of the plant
where the tank was stored is now a recreational complex. Some say on
extremely hot summer days you can still catch a whiff of molasses...