Go Back   CityProfile.com Forum - Local City and State Discussion Forums > United States City Forums > Massachusetts > Boston
Click Here to Login

Reply
Old 06-08-2011, 12:51 AM  
mohel
 
blucher's Avatar

Keizer, OR
Join Date: Nov 2010
Posts: 4,383 | Kudos: +123
Images: 99
Death by Molasses

Death by Molasses in Boston: The Great Molasses Flood of 1919 - Associated Content from Yahoo! - associatedcontent.com

Eric Postpischil's Molasses Disaster Pages

Boston Molasses Disaster - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia


Quote:
There were a lot of rotten ways to pass away in 1919, but who could have expected one of them to involve death by a molasses flood? You could be killed by the influenza epidemic that was sweeping the globe, die from
infections that today are easily handled, or be drown in the Great Molasses Flood in Boston's North End. That's right. You read correctly. On January 15th, 1919, a huge tank that stored tons and tons of molasses burst and sent a wall of molasses at thirty-five miles an hour tearing down the streets, drowning, crushing, and asphyxiating people and animals in its path. When all was said and done, twenty one people were dead and millions in property damage had been done, by none other than molasses in January.

Prohibition was right around the corner; it was passed the next day in fact, and molasses was used to produce, among other things, ethyl alcohol. The Purity Distilling Company, seeing Prohibition's handwriting on the wall, sold out to United States Industrial Alcohol in 1917, and the company stored molasses in the huge tanks that the Purity Company had, to be turned into legal industrial alcohol. One such tank, recently filled to the brim with about 2.3 million gallons of molasses, stood in Boston's North End near the harbor. The molasses tank stood 58 feet tall and was 90 feet in diameter. The tank had been built there because the neighborhood was mostly full of Italian immigrants, not yet US citizens, who had very little political clout to stop such a project. At the time, such a monstrosity did not even require a permit to build. From the beginnings, this molasses tank was known to leak, but the company did little to insure it was safe.

The weather had been very cold prior to the 15th, but on that day the thermometer took a decided upwards turn, topping out at forty degrees. The exact reason for the molasses tank's rupture was never decided proven,


but the expansion of too much molasses in it due to the unusually warm weather was one theory. Another is that the tank was blown up by Italian anarchists, but that one was proposed by the company that owned the molasses tanks while they were trying to get out of the resulting lawsuits. Bombings by anarchists at the time were not uncommon, but the over 3,000 witnesses that later testified during the lawsuits did not support this contention. Poor construction and subsequent haphazard inspections of the molasses tank were also brought up, but no matter what the reason, at about half past noon, the tank basically exploded, sending molasses that had been fermenting everywhere.

The tank gave way with a dull roar; it seemed to rise a bit and then go to pieces, with rivets and bolts shooting off like rifle fire. Down the cobblestone streets came a fifteen foot high wall of brown death. The molasses flood engulfed and crushed everything in its path. Two children playing near the tank were engulfed and died almost instantly. The molasses flood tore down the street and broke the girders supporting the elevated train tracks. Laborers working in the area were trapped and drowned by the wave, which could not be outrun. Horses became mired in it; dozens would be mercifully shot when rescuers realized there was no chance to free them. By the time the molasses flood had run its course, there was a three foot deep layer of the sticky, brown syrup everywhere in the area.

The death toll rose from the molasses flood as new victims were found days later during the clean-up until it stood at twenty-one. Hundreds more were injured in the molasses flood. The awful job of getting rid of this molasses, which soon hardened, would literally take years; some say that the molasses smell lingered on for nearly three decades after the disaster. Fire boats would hose down the streets with salt water and then they were covered with sand to try to quell the molasses smell. Sightseers tracked the molasses all over the city. The lawsuits that followed from victims and their families took six years to be resolved. The anarchist bomb theory of why the molasses tank blew up was presented but in the end the company was held responsible for shoddy construction and lax inspections of the molasses tank. Industrial Alcohol paid out almost a million dollars in settlements.

Where the giant molasses tank once stood there is now a children's park. Nothing is there to indicate that horrific death and destruction came down these streets in the form of a molasses flood so long ago. But some locals say that on a very hot day in Boston's North End, you can still detect the faint odor of molasses.
__________________

__________________
I'll believe corporations are persons when Texas executes one.: LBJ's Ghost
Reply With Quote
Old 06-08-2011, 02:32 AM  
mohel
 
blucher's Avatar

Keizer, OR
Join Date: Nov 2010
Posts: 4,383 | Kudos: +123
Images: 99
Death by Molasses in Boston: The Great Molasses Flood of 1919 - Associated Content from Yahoo! - associatedcontent.com

Eric Postpischil's Molasses Disaster Pages

Boston Molasses Disaster - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

Boston Molasses Disaster
From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia


Quote:
Aftermath of the disaster; photo by Globe Newspaper Co. (Boston Public Library)
The Boston Molasses Disaster, also known as the Great Molasses Flood and the Great Boston Molasses Tragedy, occurred on January 15, 1919, in the North End neighborhood of Boston, Massachusetts in the United States. A large molasses storage tank burst, and a wave of molasses rushed through the streets at an estimated 35 mph (56 km/h), killing 21 and injuring 150. The event has entered local folklore, and residents claim that on hot summer days, the area still smells of molasses.

Disaster



Coverage from The Boston Post


Modern downtown Boston with molasses flood area circled
The disaster occurred at the Purity Distilling Company facility on January 15, 1919, an unusually warm day for January (40˚ F, 4.4˚ C). At the time, molasses was the standard sweetener in the United States. Molasses can also be fermented to produce rum and ethyl alcohol, the active ingredient in other alcoholic beverages and a key component in the manufacturing of munitions at the time.[2] The stored molasses was awaiting transfer to the Purity plant situated between Willow Street and what is now named Evereteze Way, in Cambridge.
Near Keany Square,[3] at 529 Commercial Street, a huge molasses tank 50 ft (15 m) tall, 90 ft (27 m) in diameter and containing as much as 2,300,000 US gal (8,700,000 L) collapsed. Witnesses stated that as it collapsed, there was a loud rumbling sound, like a machine gun as the rivets shot out of the tank, and that the ground shook as if a train were passing by.[4]
The collapse unleashed an immense wave of molasses between 8 and 15 ft (2.5 and 4.5 m) high, moving at 35 mph (56 km/h), and exerting a pressure of 2 ton/ft? (200 kPa).[5] The molasses wave was of sufficient force to break the girders of the adjacent Boston Elevated Railway's Atlantic Avenue structure and lift a train off the tracks. Nearby, buildings were swept off their foundations and crushed. Several blocks were flooded to a depth of 2 to 3 feet (60 to 90 cm). As described by author Stephen Puleo:
Molasses, waist deep, covered the street and swirled and bubbled about the wreckage. Here and there struggled a form — whether it was animal or human being was impossible to tell. Only an upheaval, a thrashing about in the sticky mass, showed where any life was... Horses died like so many flies on sticky fly-paper. The more they struggled, the deeper in the mess they were ensnared. Human beings — men and women — suffered likewise.[6]
The Boston Globe reported that people "were picked up by a rush of air and hurled many feet." Others had debris hurled at them from the rush of sweet-smelling air. A truck was picked up and hurled into Boston Harbor. Approximately 150 were injured; 21 people and several horses were killed — some were crushed and drowned by the molasses. The wounded included people, horses, and dogs; coughing fits became one of the most common ailments after the initial blast.
Anthony di Stasio, walking homeward with his sisters from the Michelangelo School, was picked up by the wave and carried, tumbling on its crest, almost as though he were surfing. Then he grounded and the molasses rolled him like a pebble as the wave diminished. He heard his mother call his name and couldn't answer, his throat was so clogged with the smothering goo. He passed out, then opened his eyes to find three of his sisters staring at him.

Aftermath



Detail of molasses flood area. 1. Purity Distilling molasses tank 2. Firehouse 31 (heavy damage) 3. Paving department and police station 4. Purity offices (flattened) 5. Copps Hill Terrace 6. Boston Gas Light building (damaged) 7. Purity warehouse (mostly intact) 8. Residential area (site of flattened Clougherty house)
First to the scene were 116 cadets under the direction of Lieutenant Commander H. J. Copeland from USS Nantucket, a training ship of the Massachusetts Nautical School (which is now the Massachusetts Maritime Academy), that was docked nearby at the playground pier.[3] They ran several blocks toward the accident. They worked to keep the curious from getting in the way of the rescuers while others entered into the knee-deep sticky mess to pull out the survivors. Soon the Boston Police, Red Cross, Army and other Navy personnel arrived. Some nurses from the Red Cross dove into the molasses, while others tended to the wounded, keeping them warm as well as keeping the exhausted workers fed. Many of these people worked through the night. The injured were so numerous that doctors and surgeons set up a makeshift hospital in a nearby building. Rescuers found it difficult to make their way through the syrup to help the victims. It took four days before they stopped searching for victims; many dead were so glazed over in molasses, they were hard to recognize.

Cleanup

It took over 87,000 man hours to remove the molasses from the cobblestone streets, theaters, businesses, automobiles, and homes.[6] The harbor was still brown with molasses until summer.
United States Industrial Alcohol did not rebuild the tank. The property became a yard for the Boston Elevated Railway (predecessor to the Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority), and is currently the site of a city-owned baseball field.


Causes

Local residents brought a class-action lawsuit, one of the first held in Massachusetts, against the United States Industrial Alcohol Company (USIA), which had bought Purity Distilling in 1917. In spite of the company's attempts to claim that the tank had been blown up by anarchists[7] (because some of the alcohol produced was to be used in making munitions), a court-appointed auditor found USIA responsible after three years of hearings. United States Industrial Alcohol Company ultimately paid out $600,000 in out-of-court settlements (at least $6.6 million in 2005 dollars).[8]
Several factors that occurred on that day and the previous days might have contributed to the disaster. The tank was constructed poorly and tested insufficiently. Due to fermentation occurring within the tank, carbon dioxide production might have raised the internal pressure. The rise in local temperatures that occurred over the previous day also would have assisted in building this pressure. Records show that the air temperature rose from 2?F to 41?F (from −17?C to 5?C) over that period. The failure occurred from a manhole cover near the base of the tank, and it is possible that a fatigue crack there grew to the point of criticality. The hoop stress is greatest near the base of a filled cylindrical tank. The tank had only been filled to capacity eight times since it was built a few years previously, putting the walls under an intermittent, cyclical load.
An inquiry after the disaster revealed that Arthur Jell, who oversaw the construction, neglected basic safety tests, such as filling the tank with water to check for leaks. When filled with molasses, the tank leaked so badly that it was painted brown to hide the leaks. Local residents collected leaked molasses for their homes.[8]
An urban legend claims that the doomed tank might have been overfilled in late 1918 so that the owners could produce as much rum as possible before Prohibition came into effect. However, Purity Distilling did not make rum, but rather specialized in the production of industrial alcohol, which was exempt from the state prohibition laws in effect in 1919, and would later be exempted from the Volstead Act and other national Prohibition laws. While an urban legend, a recent television documentary, part of the Modern Marvels' Engineering Disasters sub-series, has recently argued that—even if there was no specific plan to make alcohol to beat Prohibition—there may have been some general idea of increasing the volume at the last minute so as to prepare in case alcohol prohibition might occur.
Today

The sites of the molasses tank and the North End Paving Company have been turned into a recreational complex, officially named Langone Park, featuring a Little League ballfield, a playground, and bocce courts.[10] Immediately to the east is the larger Puopolo Park, with additional recreational facilities.[11]
A small plaque at the entrance to Puopolo Park, placed by the Bostonian Society, commemorates the disaster.[12] The plaque, entitled "Boston Molasses Flood", reads:
On January 15, 1919, a molasses tank at 529 Commercial Street exploded under pressure, killing 21 people. A 40-foot wave of molasses buckled the elevated railroad tracks, crushed buildings and inundated the neighborhood. Structural defects in the tank combined with unseasonably warm temperatures contributed to the disaster.
Drivers on Boston's Old Town Trolley and other tour services often read off accounts of the accident to their passengers, sometimes referring to it by the neologism "The Boston Molassacre"
__________________

__________________
I'll believe corporations are persons when Texas executes one.: LBJ's Ghost
Reply With Quote
Old 06-08-2011, 12:44 PM  
mohel
 
blucher's Avatar

Keizer, OR
Join Date: Nov 2010
Posts: 4,383 | Kudos: +123
Images: 99
Without Warning.....Molasses Pt. 1

Without Warning, Molasses in January Surged Over Boston

HTML Code:
http://edp.org/molpark.htm
As the city was planning its heroes' welcome for sons returning from World War I, a frightful flood devasted a vast area of the North End.

by Edwards Park
Originally appeared in Smithsonian 14 number 8 (November 1983), pages 213-230.

Quote:
When I was a boy in Boston and had reached a sufficiently sophisticated age, I was allowed to go downtown by myself. I was finally deemed capable of handling the ancient subway system and the narrow, clogged streets, and I responded by making ritualistic expeditions from the boring security of the Back Bay to the perilous excitements of Washington Street. This was my Gobi Desert, my Mountains of the Moon, my Tarzan Country.

My target was always Iver Johnson's, the famous old sporting-goods store that captured the hearts of Boston lads in those days. It faced on Washington Street near the edge of Scollay Square, that opening in the cow-path streets where stood the Old Howard, a burlesque theater famous for supplementing the curricula of Harvard students. "Always Something Doing, One to Eleven, at the Old Howard" read its ads in the Boston Globe, followed by the titillating phrase, "25 Beautiful Girls 25." Scollay Square was off limits to me, and no wonder.

But Iver Johnson's was a wholesome interest. There I could wander through aisles flanked by baseball bats; through thickets of split-bamboo fly rods and stubbles of short, steel bait-casting rods (fiber-glass rods and spinning reels were as yet unknown); through an arsenal of rifles and shotguns, blue steel barrels glinting against the warm-grained walnut stocks; and through a long array of heavy woolen winter clothes and thick leather hunting boots. Boys were under constant surveillance by supercilious clerks. I remember how surprised one of them was the day I actually bought something, but no matter. This was a place in which to build dreams.

Iver Johnson's displayed some of its own items in the window that overlooked Washington Street. Sleds shiny with varnish. Also, as I remember, a little .22 revolver. And bicycles. My two older brothers had both been given Iver Johnson bikes, and one of these fine old 28-inch wheelers was reposing in our basement, heavy with dust. It was supposed to be handed down to me, but there was now too much traffic in the Back Bay, even on Sunday mornings, for a kid to learn how to handle a big bike. I went without?and so learned to hate many aspects of modernity.

The way to reach Iver Johnson's was to take the subway to Park Street and walk northeast to a wonderful little byway called Cornhill, which pitched downward to Washington Street. You could smell Cornhill before you reached it because at its upper end was the Phoenix, a coffee-house marked by the aroma of freshly ground beans. The rich scent filled the streets around and lured customers by the score.

Along with the coffee smell was another, equally pervading. One could discern throughout much of downtown Boston, and especially around the North End, the unmistakable aroma of molasses.

As a boy, I never questioned that odor, so strong on hot days, so far-reaching when the wind came out of the east. It was simply part of Boston, along with the swan boats in the Public Gardens and the tough kids swimming in the Frog Pond on the common. But years later, when I was on the staff of the Boston Globe, I asked a colleague about it. We were walking over toward the North End, beyond Hanover Street, and our taste buds were guiding us toward one of the corner trattorias where North End Italians make, I swear, the world's finest pizza, and for once I was annoyed by that other smell?the Boston smell.

"Why does Boston smell of molasses?" I asked my friend.

He looked at me curiously. "Because of the molasses flood, of course," he said.

"Molasses flood?"

"Yeah. The thing we do special stories on every ten years. Haven't you worked on one yet?"

I admitted I had not. And then the little restaurant came into view and we entered and sat down to pizza and kitchen tumblers of cellar-made Italian wine. And I forgot molasses for a number of years.

My old paper did short memory pieces about the Great Boston Molasses Flood on ten-year anniversaries of the event, which occurred in 1919. I didn't happen to work there in a year that had a nine at the end of it, and so remained largely ignorant about the original disaster. Older friends and relatives recalled it, but not very accurately, or in much detail. To learn more, I recently dug into the files of the Globe and pieced together fragile bits of brown newsprint as best I could...

Copp's Hill. It rises beside the conflux of the Charles River and Boston's inner harbor. It looks across at the yardarms of the U.S.S. Constitution?"Old Ironsides"?moored at the Boston Naval Shipyard over at Charlestown. A full-size American car trying to negotiate the side streets of Copp's Hill will probably bark its whitewalls on both curbs. At the foot of the hill, at Salem Street, is the Old North Church where two lanterns were hung as a signal to Paul Revere, and in a little park next to the church is a statue of Revere himself. Old men sit by the statue on sunny days, playing checkers and arguing dramatically in Italian. Copp's Hill is right there in the North End, Boston's Little Italy.

Commercial Street. It loops around the salient of Copp's Hill from the Charlestown Bridge, east and south, to link with Atlantic Avenue. It roars with traffic?and it did so in 1919, but with different sounds. Instead of the thunder of today's diesels, there was the unmuffled blat of loaded lorries with solid rubber tires, the endless clop of work horses pulling freight wagons and, over all, the roar of the relatively new elevated railway?the "El"?that for years kept Commercial Street in shadow.

On the water side of Commercial Street, opposite Copp's Hill, there stood in 1919 a giant storage tank. It had been built four years before by the Purity Distilling Company?massively constructed, with great curved steel sides and strong bottom plates set into a concrete base and pinned together with a stitching of rivets. It was built to hold molasses, that old Colonial commodity that stirs school-day memories of the "triangle trade": slaves from Africa to the West Indies; molasses from the West Indies to New England; rum, made from the molasses, back across the Atlantic for a cargo of slaves. The old triangle had long been broken by 1919, but New England still made (and makes) rum, as well as baked beans, and the molasses for both still came (and comes) north from the Caribbean and New Orleans. In 1919, Boston's Purity tank could hold about two and a half million gallons of the stuff.

January 15, 1919. The weather had been mild for Boston?close to 40 F?and the streets were bare of snow.

Two months before, the Great War (to end all wars) had ended, and the Yankee Division, the 26th, was coming home soon. That bloody adventure was over, and the nation was about to enter a great experiment?Prohibition. One more state was needed to ratify the 18th Amendment, and a vote was scheduled the next day. With an eye perhaps to the future, Purity Distilling Company had sold out in 1917 to United States Industrial Alcohol. Thus that huge molasses tank, 50 feet tall and some 90 feet in diameter, could legally continue to supply alcohol to industry.

The big Boston tank was just about full. A ship from Puerto Rico had brought its contents up to about 2,300,000 gallons a few days before.

At noon on this January day, work around the molasses tank routinely slowed as laborers took time out for their sandwiches and coffee. Men paused to eat and chat in a shack owned by the Paving Department, whcih shared the open area where the tank stood. Others were doing the same at the quarters of a Boston Fire Department fireboat on the waterfront side of the tank.

They were most probably discussing baseball?Boston had won the World Series in 1918?and a new film called Shoulder Arms which was Charlie Chaplin's satire on life in the trenches. They probably mentioned politics, for President Wilson was in Europe trying to get a peace treaty based on his Fourteen Points. Moreover, Theodore Roosevelt had died only two weeks before, and like him or not, you had to admire the man, even if you were a Boston day laborer.

They would certainly have been hashing over Boston's own politics, ever a fascinating subject. Ex-Mayor John J. Fitzgerald was by now out of the picture and these workmen probably said, "More's the pity," for "Honey Fitz" never lost sight of his Irishness and seemed a darlin' man to the workers, despite all the stories of graft. One of his grandsons?the one named for him: John Fitzgerald Kennedy?would be two years old in May. Fitzgerald himself had been born in the North End back when it was Irish and not yet Italian.
__________________
I'll believe corporations are persons when Texas executes one.: LBJ's Ghost
Reply With Quote
Old 06-08-2011, 12:50 PM  
mohel
 
blucher's Avatar

Keizer, OR
Join Date: Nov 2010
Posts: 4,383 | Kudos: +123
Images: 99
Without Warning.....Molasses Pt. 2

HTML Code:
http://edp.org/molpark.htm
Death by Molasses

Quote:
And certainly the flu epidemic would have been on the tongues of these workers. It took some 20 million lives around the world, more than half a million in the United States. There was nothing a man could do about it, it seemed, except go regularly to church and burn a few candles. But these men needn't have worried about the flu that day, for their own particular disaster was on the way.
At about 12:30, with a sound described as a sort of muffled roar, the giant molasses tank came apart. It seemed to rise and then split, the rivets popping in a way that reminded many ex-soldiers of machine-gun fire. And then a wet, brown hell broke loose, flooding downtown Boston.
Spill a jar of kitchen molasses. Then imagine an estimated 14,000 tons of the thick, sticky fluid running wild. It left the ruptured tank in a choking brown wave, 15 feet high, wiping out everything that stood in its way. One steel section of the tank was hurled across Commercial Street, neatly knocking out one of the uprights supporting the El. An approaching train screeched to a stop just as the track ahead sagged into the onrushing molasses.

When the molasses wave hit houses, they "seemed to cringe up as though they were made of pasteboard," wrote one reporter. The Clougherty home at the foot of Copp's Hill collapsed around poor Bridget Clougherty, killing her instantly. And when pieces of the tank hit a structure, they had the effect of shellfire. One jagged chunk smashed the freight house where some of the lunchers had been working.

The great brown wave caught and killed most of the nearby laborers. The fireboat company quarters was splintered. A lorry was blasted right through a wooden fence, and a wagon driver was found later, dead and frozen in his last attitude like a figure from the ashes of Pompeii.

How fast is molasses in January? That day the wave moved at an estimated 35 miles per hour. It caught young children on their way home from the morning session of school. One of them, Anthony di Stasio, walking homeward with his sisters from the Michelangelo School, was picked up by the wave and carried, tumbling on its crest, almost as though he were surfing. Then he grounded and the molasses rolled him like a pebble as the wave diminished. He heard his mother call his name and couldn't answer, his throat was so clogged with the smothering goo. He passed out, then opened his eyes to find three of his sisters staring at him. (Another sister had been killed.) They had found little Anthony stretched under a sheet on the "dead" side of a body-littered floor.

The death toll kept rising, day after day. Two bodies showed up four days after the tank burst. They were so battered and glazed over by the molasses that identification was difficult. The final count was 21 dead, 150 injured, a number of horses killed. The molasses wave, after spreading out, covered several blocks of downtown Boston to a depth of two or three feet. Although rescue equipment was quick to arrive on the scene, vehicles and rescue workers on foot could barely get through the clinging muck that filled the streets.
A news reporter later remembered seeing Red Cross volunteers, Boston debutantes in smart gray uniforms with spotless white shirtwaists and shiny black puttees, step determinedly into the deep brown muck. In a second they were gooey and bedraggled, plunging through the flood that sucked at their puttees.

Apparently one reason the ambulances arrived so soon was that a policeman was at his corner signal box, making a call to his precinct, when he glanced down the street and saw the brown tide slithering toward him. You can hear in your mind his gasp into the phone: "Holy Mother iv God! Sind iverythin' you can?somethin' tirrible has happened!"

Most of the facts about the Great Molasses Flood emerged in the findings of the lawsuits that swamped Boston after the event and were just as sticky as the molasses. Litigation took six years, involved some 3,000 witnesses and so many lawyers that the courtroom couldn't hold them all.

The reason for the lawsuits was disagreement as to the nature of the disaster. What in the world had caused it? Three explanations arose: there had been an explosion inside the tank (in which case the fermentation of the molasses would be to blame); there had been a bomb set off (not so wild a possibility in those early days of Bolshevism?bombs had already blasted a few American industrial plants); there had been a structural failure of the four-year-old tank (which made United States Industrial Alcohol liable).

Eventually the court found that the tank had ruptured simply because the "factor of safety" was too low. In other words, inspections hadn't been tough enough. The company was held to blame for the horror. Settlements of more than 100 claims were made out of court. Industrial Alcohol paid off between $500,000 and $1,000,000. Survivors of those killed reportedly got about $7,000 per victim.

Molasses is the main byproduct of the manufacture of sugar from sugar cane. It results from the continued boiling of cane juice?reminiscent of the boiling off of maple sap to produce maple syrup. When enough reboiling has gone on to wrench every bit of sugar out of the molasses, the resulting viscous liquid is blackstrap, the extra-thick molasses used as an additive in cattle feed. It provides valuable carbohydrates in the diet of a cow. (In ours, too, it seems. Recently, molasses has excited natural-food addicts as a sugar substitute.)
__________________
I'll believe corporations are persons when Texas executes one.: LBJ's Ghost
Reply With Quote
Old 06-08-2011, 01:06 PM  
mohel
 
blucher's Avatar

Keizer, OR
Join Date: Nov 2010
Posts: 4,383 | Kudos: +123
Images: 99
Without Warning.....Molasses Pt. 3

Death by Molasses

Quote:
Back in 1919 you couldn't have given the product away in Boston. The gluey chaos caused by the flood was cleaned up by hosing the area with salt water from fireboats and then covering the streets with sand. The trouble was that all the rescue workers, clean-up crews and sight-seers, squelching through the molasses, managed to distribute it all over Greater Boston. Boots and clothing carried it into the suburbs. Molasses coated streetcar seats and public telephones. Everything a Bostonian touched was sticky. There is a report that molasses even got as far as Worcester. Certainly the inner harbor turned brown as the hoses washed the goo into the bay.

As the rescue workers and clean-up crews tackled the incredible mess the night of January 16, they paused in puzzlement at the sudden ringing of church bells all over downtown Boston. Nebraska had voted on the 18th Amendment and ratified it. Prohibition was law, and churches which had campaigned for it in their pulpits now celebrated. Men up to their ankles in the makings of rum listened for a moment and went back to work.

The smell of molasses remained for decades a distinctive, unmistakable atmosphere of Boston. My boyhood association of the sweet aroma, mingled with the fragrance of coffee from the Phoenix, led me into a habit I still enjoy, though most other people seem to shun it: I invariably sweeten my first cup of early morning coffee with a teaspoonful of dark molasses. To me, the two go together.

But the Phoenix coffeehouse did not prove as permanent as the morning ritual it inspired. It was sacrificed to the great rebuilding of the inner city which took place mostly in the 1960s, and, unlike its namesake, it has not risen again. Even Cornhill has gone. Even the Old Howard. Even Iver Johnson's. And finally, even the smell of molasses. I passed the site of the catastrophe recently and found that there is little to show for it. Copp's Hill is the same as ever, but the El is gone, and the old waterfront, once so messy with decrepit warehouses, has been largely redesigned and landscaped. Where the great doomed tank once stood, there is a park filled with swings, slides and the shouts of children, and next to it, an enclosed recreation center.

A retrospective account of the flood indicated that the "high molasses mark" could still be seen on walls and buildings in the area. I looked and saw a dark stain?but it was just a city stain with nothing to indicate that the gush of molasses had lapped that high and painted the stone brown. I couldn't even find a plaque, not the merest marker to remember the 15th of January, 1919. I sniffed at the dark stain. Nothing.

But as I get older, early impressions express themselves suddenly and in strange ways. And as everyone knows, nothing is more nostalgic than a smell or a taste. One morning, not long before I started looking into the story of the flood, I was drinking my early coffee, hot and delicious, with just that faint touch of molasses to give it special meaning. And inexplicably I said, "I wish I had a bicycle."

"What on Earth for?" my wife asked me.

"I don't really know, come to think of it," I answered.
HTML Code:
http://edp.org/molpark.htm
__________________
I'll believe corporations are persons when Texas executes one.: LBJ's Ghost
Reply With Quote
Old 06-08-2011, 01:10 PM  
mohel
 
blucher's Avatar

Keizer, OR
Join Date: Nov 2010
Posts: 4,383 | Kudos: +123
Images: 99
Death by Molasses

The Molasses Disaster of January 15, 1919
Eric Postpischil's Molasses Disaster Pages, Yankee Magazine Article

by John Mason
Reprinted from Yankee Magazine (Dublin, New Hampshire: January 1965), pages 52-53 and 109-111.



Quote:
As long as people work and live and play in the vicinity of North End Park in Boston, no winter will pass without someone recalling the catastrophe that took place there on January 15, 1919, just forty-six years ago.

The scene of this tragic accident was that low-lying section of Commercial Street between Copps Hill and the playground of North End Park.

Looking down from Copps Hill on that mild, winter afternoon, you saw first the tracks of the Boston elevated?and the old, old houses nearby. Across the street were the freight sheds of the Boston and Worcester and Eastern Massachusetts Railways, the paving division of the Public Works Department, the headquarters of Fire Boat 31, and the wharves with patrol boats and minesweepers moored alongside. In the background to the left, the Charlestown Navy Yard. Towering above the freight sheds was the big tank of the United States Alcohol Company?bulging with more than two million gallons of crude molasses.

In the Public Works Department, a dozen or more horses munched their oats and hay, as flocks of pigeons fluttered around to catch the stray kernels of grain that fell from the feed bags. Stretched out on the runningboard of a heavily laden express truck, "Peter," a pet tiger cat, slept in the unseasonably warm sunshine.

This was the fourth day that the mercury of the freight shed had been climbing. On the 12th of January it was only two degrees above zero. But, on the 13th, the temperature rose rapidly from sixteen degrees to forty; now, at 12:30 p.m. on Wednesday, the 15th, it was forty-three above zero, and so warm in the sun that office workers stood around in their shirtsleeves (talking about the weather). Even the freight handlers had doffed their overcoats, and sailors from the training ship Nantucket carried their heavy peajackets on their arms.

Mrs. Clougherty put her blankets out to air and smiled at little Maria Di Stasio gathering firewood under the freight cars. She waved to her neighbor, Mrs. O'Brien, planting her geraniums on a dingy window sill.

In the pumping station attached to the big molasses tank, Bill White turned the key in the lock and started uptown to meet his wife for lunch. He bumped into Eric Blair, driver for Wheeler's Express, and said, "Hello, Scotty. What are you doing around here at noontime? Thought you and the old nag always went to Charlestown for grub?"

The young Scotsman grinned, "It's a funny thing, Bill. This is the first time in three years I ever brought my lunch over here;" and he climbed up on the bulkhead and leaned back against the warm side of the big molasses tank?for the first and last time.

Inside the Boston and Worcester freight terminal, Percy Smerage, the foreman, was checking a pile of express to be shipped to Framingham and Worcester. Four freight cars were already loaded. The fifth stood half empty on the spur track that ran past the molasses tank.

Smerage had just told his assistant to finish loading the last car when a low, deep rumble shook the freight yard. Then the earth heaved under their feet and they heard a sound of ripping and tearing?snipping of steel bolts (like a machine gun)?followed by a booming roar as the bottom of the giant molasses tank split wide open and a geyser of yellowish-brown fluid spouted into the sky, followed by a tidal wave of molasses.

With a horrible, hissing, sucking sound, it splashed in a curving arc straight across the street, crushing everything and everybody in its path.

Less time than it takes to tell it, molasses had filled the five-foot loading pit, and was creeping over the threshold of the warehouse door. The four loaded freight cars were washed like chips down the track. The half-loaded car was caught on the foaming crest of the eight-foot wave and, with unbelievable force, hurled through the corrugated iron walls of the terminal.

The freight house shook and shivered as the molasses outside, now five feet deep, pushed against the building. Then the doors and windows caved in, and a rushing-roaring river of molasses rolled like molten lava into the freight shed, knocking over the booths where freight clerks were checking their lists.

Like madmen they fought the on-rushing tide, trying to swim in the sticky stuff that sucked them down. Tons of freight?shoes, potatoes?barrels and boxes?tumbled and splashed on the frothy-foaming mass, now so heavy the floors gave way, letting tons of the stuff into the cellar. Down there the workers died like rats in a trap. Some tried to dash up the stairs but they slipped and fell?and disappeared.

As the fifty-eight-foot-high tank split wide open, more molasses poured out under a pressure of two tons per square foot. Men, women, children and animals were caught, hurled into the air, or dashed against freight cars only to fall back and sink from sight in the slowly moving mass.

High above the scene of disaster, an elevated train crowded with passengers whizzed by the crumbling tank just as the molasses broke loose, tearing off the whole front of the Clougherty house and snapping off the steel supports of the "L" structure. That train had barely gone by when the trestle snapped and the tracks sagged almost to street level.

The roaring wall of death moved on. It struck the fire station, knocked it over on its side and pushed it toward the ocean until it fetched up on some pilings. One of the firemen was hurled through a partition. George Leahy, engineer of Fire Boat 31, was crushed to death under a billiard table.

In the Public Works Department, five men eating their noonday meal were smothered by the bubbling, boiling sludge that poured in upon them.

Up at fire headquarters, the first alarm came in at 12:40 p.m. As soon as Chief Peter McDonough learned the extent of the tragedy, he sounded a third alarm to get workers and rescue squads.

Ladders were placed over the wreckage and the firemen crawled out on them to pull the dead and dying from the molasses-drenched debris.

Amidst a mass of bedding and broken furniture, they found the body of Mrs. Clougherty?killed when her house collapsed. Nearby lay the body of "Peter."

Capt. Krake of Engine 7 was leading his men cautiously along the slippery wreckage under the elevated when he saw a mass of yellow hair floating on a dark brown pool of molasses. He took off his coat and plunged his arms to the elbows in the sweet sticky stream. It was Maria Di Stasio, the little girl who had been gathering firewood.

Over by the Public Works Building, more than a dozen horses lay floundering in the molasses. Under an overturned express wagon was the body of the driver.

Fifteen dead were found before the sun went down that night and six other bodies were recovered later. As for the injured, they were taken by cars and wagons and ambulances to the Haymarket Relief and other hospitals.

The next day the firemen tackled the mess with a lot of fire hoses, washing the molasses off the buildings and wreckage and down the gutters. When hit by the salt water, the molasses frothed up?all yellow and sudsy. It was weeks before the devastated area was cleaned up.

Of course, there was great controversy as to the cause of the tank's collapse. And there were about 125 lawsuits filed against the United States Industrial Alcohol Company.

The trial (or rather the hearings) was the longest in the history of Massachusetts Courts. Judge Hitchcock appointed Col. Hugh W. Ogden to act as Auditor and hear the evidence. It was six years before he made his special report.

There were so many lawyers involved, that there wasn't room enough in the courthouse to hold them all, so they consolidated and chose two to represent the claimants.

Never in New England did so many engineers, metallurgists and scientists parade onto the witness stand. Albert L. Colby, an authority on the amount of structural strain a steel tank could sustain before breaking, was on the witness stand three weeks?often giving testimony as late as ten o'clock in the evening.

Altogether, more than 3,000 witnesses were examined and nearly 45,000 pages of testimony and arguments were recorded. The defendants spent over $50,000 on expert witness fees, claiming the collapse was not due to a structural weakness but rather to a dynamite bomb.

When Auditor Ogden made his report, he found the defendants responsible for the disaster because the molasses tank, which was fifty-eight feet high and ninety feet across, was not strong enough to withstand the pressure of the 2,500,000 gallons it was designed to hold. In other words, the "factor of safety" was not high enough.

And so the owners of the tank paid in all nearly a million dollars in damages?and the great Molasses Case passed into history.
__________________
I'll believe corporations are persons when Texas executes one.: LBJ's Ghost
Reply With Quote
Old 06-08-2011, 01:20 PM  
mohel
 
blucher's Avatar

Keizer, OR
Join Date: Nov 2010
Posts: 4,383 | Kudos: +123
Images: 99
Death by Molasses

Eric Postpischil's Molasses Disaster Pages

Quote:
Before the explosion, the tank's owner, U.S. Industrial Alcohol, responded to warnings about structural problems with the tank by painting it brown, making it harder to see the molasses leaking out of the tank. (Stephen Puleo, Dark Tide (Boston: Beacon Press, 2003): 70-71.)
Hours after the explosion, a company lawyer was on the scene falsely blaming others for the disaster. (Ibid, 112-113.)
The Violence of the Explosion

Quote:
Fermentation, a sudden rise in temperature, and an inadequate tank caused the tank containing two million gallons of molasses to explode. The force of the explosion was so great that:
Half-inch steel plates of the huge molasses tank were torn apart. ("Seeking Cause of Explosion," The Salem Evening News, January 16, 1919: 7.)
The plates were propelled in all directions, hard enough to cut the girders of the elevated railway. (Ibid.)
After the explosion, a tremendous vacuum sucked into ruin buildings which had withstood the primary blast. (Ibid.)
The vacuum also picked up a truck and dragged it across the street toward the molasses tank. ("Big Molasses Tank Blast Kills Eleven," The Boston Globe, January 16, 1919: 8.)
An elevated train was lifted off the rails and fell onto the ties. (Ibid.)
Some buildings collapsed.
Some buildings were knocked off their foundations.
Some buildings were buried under the flood of molasses.
The Terror of the Scene

Quote:
I went to original newspaper articles to find out what it was like. Envision a disaster scene with smashed buildings, overturned vehicles, drowned and crushed victims, and terrified survivors running away covered in molasses. Like the modern-day disasters with which we are unfortunately familiar, there was chaos, terror, buildings in ruins, victims to be dug out, trapped survivors to be rescued, rescue workers among the victims, and anguished families rushing to relief centers to find their relatives. It was like any horrible disaster scene, with the addition that everything was covered in smelly sticky brown molasses.
Dark Tide: The Great Boston Molasses Flood of 1919 [Hardcover]
Stephen Puleo (Author)
__________________
I'll believe corporations are persons when Texas executes one.: LBJ's Ghost
Reply With Quote
Old 03-15-2012, 02:35 PM  
Member

Boston, MA
Join Date: Sep 2010
Posts: 30 | Kudos: +10
I live on the 400 block of commercial, and my basement smells slightly like molasses when i have the heat up high or it is a really hot summer day.
Reply With Quote
Old 01-28-2013, 05:31 PM  
Junior Member

Join Date: Jan 2013
Posts: 1 | Kudos: +10
The construction

How many segments was this tank composed of
Reply With Quote
Old 02-21-2016, 03:24 AM  
Junior Member

East Boston, Massachusetts
Join Date: Feb 2016
Posts: 2 | Kudos: +10
On a hot summer day, you can still smell the molasses that flowed down into the spaces of the cobblestones that are still there. Specially up by the Paul Revere House in North Square. I love being up there when the area is full with tourists and they start to get a whiff.

It doesn't take much to amuse this old lady.
__________________

Reply With Quote
Reply

Go Back   CityProfile.com Forum - Local City and State Discussion Forums > United States City Forums > Massachusetts > Boston
Bookmark this Page!

Thread Tools Search this Thread
Search this Thread:

Advanced Search
Display Modes


Suggested Threads

Powered by vBadvanced CMPS v3.2.3

Powered by vBulletin® Version 3.8.8 Beta 1
Copyright ©2000 - 2017, vBulletin Solutions, Inc.