Skills and Gear for Self Reliance and Homesteading

The Great Molasses Flood of 1919.


Interesting story from history. Yesterday the 15th was the day in 1919 that there was a flood of Molasses in the streets of Boston. Now we all think of prepping for tornadoes, hurricanes and earthquakes, but how to do prep for this?

The company involved is the Purity Distilling Company. At that time Molasses was the main sweetener for the country and was also used heavily in alcohol production. On their property, the company had a large storage tank, molasses tank some 2.3 million gallons, full of molasses. I can’t really fathom that much slow, oozing sugar in one large vat. They were rushing to get the last batch of alcohol produced before prohibition began. Apparently the temperature had risen from freezing temperatures to 40 degrees and the molasses expanded inside the tank. People mentioned that they could hear “popping noises” as the rivets from the tank were shot out as the pressure increased.

When the tank finally ruptured, the molasses now traveling at a brisk 35mph took out anything around it and severely damaged elevated train supports. Nearby building were washed away as the wall hit them. Once the molasses came to rest, it was 2-3 feet deep for several blocks around. Approximately 150 were injured; 21 people were killed along with several horses. Imagine being crushed and drowned by molasses, reminds me of the movie “The Blob”. The wounded included people, horses, dogs and anything else in the way.

First to the scene were 116 cadets from the USS Nantucket, a ship of the Nautical School that was docked nearby at the playground pier. 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. Nurses from the Red Cross dived 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. It took four days before they stopped searching for victims; many dead were so glazed over in molasses, they were hard to recognize.

molasses flood cleanup

Cleanup took about two weeks using more than 300 people and 87,000 man-hours. The harbor was brown with molasses until summer.

The tank was never rebuilt. The property became a yard for the Boston Elevated Railway and is currently the site of Fenway Park.

Makes you think about what is there in your neighborhood that could be a potential disaster…. I think I’m gonna take a walk around!

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