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A Flood of Memories Returns

15 Jan

Friends: It’s that day again … the anniversary of the Great Molasses Flood of 1919, a.k.a. one of my favorite days of the year. (No kidding.) Rather than write the same old blog post again, I’ll link to my original post about the flood, where I explained why this day means so much to me.

You know, it’s funny. I’ve been keeping this blog since September 2005, and in the four years that this day has come along, there has only been one where I remembered on my own, on time. (To wit, here are my posts from 2006, 2007, 2008, and 2009.) Today, were it not for Universal Hub and his Tweet, I would have totally forgotten again. So thanks to Adam over at UHub and Happy Molasses Flood Day to the rest of you!

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A Day to Remember

15 Jan

Kids! I’ve nearly let the entire day go by without acknowledging the 90th anniversary — 90th! — of one of my favorite days of the year: January 15, 1919, the day of the Great Molasses Flood. For such an important day, I sure do have a habit of forgetting when it is, but this year I’m going to get a post in just under the wire. If you know nothing about the flood, check out my post from three years ago. For even more, check out the book Dark Tide (yeah, no kidding).

A couple years ago, my friend Todd and I wrote our own little parody of the classic Paul Revere rhyme to commemorate the occasion of the flood’s anniversary. It begins like this:

Gather my children and you shall smell
the scent of molasses — now run like hell!

Each year, we recite it and laugh ourselves silly. We did it this evening, in fact. Eventually, we’ll also finish our big-screen adaptation of the Dark Tide book (appropriately, we’re working verrrrrrrrry slowly). But for now, a happy anniversary to the flood. I’m going to mark this down on my calendar so I don’t almost forget it again next year.

Dark Day

14 Jan

This year I’m right on schedule. Finally. For the first time in the three years I’ve been keeping this blog, I’m actually going to have a post up about the Great Molasses Flood of 1919 on the actual anniversary day, which is tomorrow, January 15. Longtime readers of this blog know that this is one of my all-time favorite stories, historical or otherwise. Basically, if you’ve never heard of it before, 89 years ago, a huge tank of molasses — we’re talking 50 feet tall and 240 feet wide — exploded, spilling 2.5 million gallons of molasses into Boston’s North End. But it didn’t just spill. It did so in the form of a wave about 10 feet tall that moved at a speed of 35 mph and exerted a pressure of 2 tons/foot. Years later, a book about the subject was written and it was called, of all things, Dark Tide. Sure, it’s a tragic story (21 people were killed and 150 were injured) but don’t you just love the visual of a giant wave of molasses plowing its way through the North End? Classic stuff right there.

Actually, last year Todd and I wrote our own little parody of the classic Paul Revere rhyme. It begins like this:
Gather my children and you shall smell
the scent of molasses — now run like hell!

We’re also working (verrrry slowly) on a movie adaptation of the Dark Tide book. Anyone want to produce it?

For more about the flood, click here to read my post from two years ago. I’ll be eating a molasses cookie in honor of this special day. You should too. Happy anniversary!

Dark Tide Rises Again

17 Jan

For the second year in a row, I forgot to mention the Great Molasses Flood on the actual anniversary day, which was Monday. If you’ve never heard the story of the molasses flood of 1919, then you simply must read my post from a year ago, which provides a summary and links to other articles with more details. Suffice it to say, it’s one of my favorite Boston history stories of all time. I mean, it inspired a book called Dark Tide! How great is that?

Anyway, happy anniversary, Boston. I’ll eat a molasses cookie in your honor.

Slow as Molasses in January

16 Jan

Forgive me, but I totally forgot to post something yesterday about it being the 87th anniversary of the Great Molasses Flood of 1919. At my company, we have a welcome lunch for the interns every semester, and somehow the telling of this story by our resident historian has become a traditional part of the “entertainment.” Because it’s one of those true stories that so few people my age know, I thought I’d post a quick summary. Here goes …

Back in the day, molasses was the standard sweetener across the country, used in things like soda, etc. (these days it’s corn syrup). Molasses was also fermented and used in producing ethyl alcohol for use in making liquor and as a key component in the manufacture of munitions. Right here in Boston there was a distillery located over by the North End at 529 Commercial Street with a 50-foot-tall, 240-foot-wide tank that contained 2.5 million gallons of molasses. The stored molasses was supposed to be transferred to a plant situated between Willow Street and what is now named Evereteze Way in Cambridge. Suffice it to say, it never got there.

On January 15, a dull, muffled roar was heard emanating from the six-story-tall tank. This was quickly followed by a huge explosion that sent the tank’s half-inch-thick sheet iron shell flying through the air in three giant pieces, and unleashed a wave of molasses upon the unsuspecting people of the neighborhood. Apparently, the wave was between 8 and 15 feet high, it moved at 35 mph, and exerted a pressure of 2 tons/foot. According to Wikipedia’s entry on the subject, “the molasses wave was of sufficient force to break the girders of the adjacent Boston Elevated Railway’s Atlantic Avenue Elevated structure and lift a train off the tracks. Several nearby buildings were also destroyed, and several blocks were flooded to a depth of 2 to 3 feet. Twenty-one people were killed and 150 injured as the molasses crushed and asphyxiated many of the victims to death. Rescuers found it difficult to make their way through the syrup to help the victims.”

Can you just picture this scene? It’s awesome in its scope and destructiveness. It’s like a good disaster movie — The Day After Tomorrow, for example. I mean, the story is real and dramatic, and yes, I know people lost their lives, but how cool does that sound?!? People, we’re talking a fifteen-foot-high wall of molasses!!! Why hasn’t there been a movie made about this yet? There’s even a book that came out in 2004 that provides the perfect title: Dark Tide. No kidding. It’s really called Dark Tide! That’s genius! Jerry Bruckheimer, are you reading this? I hear no less than Nicolas Cage is standing by, ready to take on the leading role.

Anyway, no one knows exactly why all this happened, though a couple of theories posit that it had something to do with the pending ratification of the 18th Amendment, which happened the next day, beginning the Prohibition era. More likely is the fact that unseasonably warm temperatures caused rapid expansion of the molasses and overstressed the tank. The day before, the temperature was only 2 degrees. On the day of the accident, it had risen to an unseasonably warm 40 degrees. (Sounds like this past weekend in reverse.)

Today, only a small plaque at the entrance to Puopolo Park commemorates the flood. But I’ve been told that if you walk through the North End on a hot summer day, you can still smell the molasses coming up from the ground …

(Want more? check out Yankee magazine’s 1965 story about the flood.)

So because this is one of my favorite stories, tragic though it is, I wanted to post something here to commemorate the anniversary.