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CINDY DAY: The Great Molasses Flood, a sad day in Boston’s history

Twenty one people were killed on Commercial Street in the North End when a tank of molasses ruptured and exploded. An eight foot wave of the syrupy brown liquid moved down Commercial Street at a speed of 35mph. Wreckage of the collapsed tank visible in background, center, next to light colored warehouse. Elevated railway structure visible at far left and the North End Park bathing beach to the far right. - Wikimedia Commons
Twenty one people were killed on Commercial Street in the North End when a tank of molasses ruptured and exploded. An eight foot wave of the syrupy brown liquid moved down Commercial Street at a speed of 35mph. Wreckage of the collapsed tank visible in background, center, next to light colored warehouse. Elevated railway structure visible at far left and the North End Park bathing beach to the far right. - Wikimedia Commons - Public Domain

As you already know, I love to share Grandma’s weather wisdom with anyone who’ll listen.  I was blessed to have many smart, loving and interesting women in my life.  As a matter of fact, mom was the author of some pretty interesting sayings, too.

I’m going to drag my brother Ronnie into this one.  When he was in his early teens, he played a lot of evening hockey so when the alarm went off in the morning, he didn’t exactly dart out of bed.  I remember hearing mom call for him from the bottom of the stairs and when he finally emerged from his lair, she’d comment on how he was slower than “Molasses in January.”

We ate a lot of molasses on the farm.  In fact, my dad said he could work all day on a breakfast of peanut butter and molasses… But I digress.

There was one memorable exception to that truism – and it was a deadly one.  Today is the 100th anniversary of a tragedy that struck Boston’s North End.

On Jan. 15, 1919, shortly after 12:40 p.m. local time, a giant storage tank at the Purity Distilling Co. on Boston's waterfront, collapsed; 8.7 million litres of molasses flooded the streets catching everything from horses to humans in its sticky grasp.  The tragic accident killed 21 people and injured more than a hundred.

There is weather connection here, too.  Over time, scientists have figured out why the deluge was so deadly: cool temperatures caused the spilled molasses to thicken, complicating attempts to rescue victims and to begin recovery and cleanup. Experts claim the viscosity of the molasses increased by a factor of four or more due to a drop in temperature, hours after the spill.

Just a little more than a year before that terrible tragedy in Boston, many men and women came to our aid following the deadly Halifax explosion.  Today, our thoughts and prayers go out to those who lost family members in that tragedy, 100 years ago today.

There are those who claim that on a hot summer day in the North End of the city, you can still smell the molasses.

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Cindy Day is the chief meteorologist for SaltWire Network.

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