Flickr/Boston Public Library

One of the weirdest and most awful things that ever happened.

Ninety-four years ago today, a giant molasses tank in Boston exploded, sending a flood of molasses through the streets near Keany Square. Twenty-one people were killed and dozens more injured. Dead horses, dogs and cats had to be hauled away by the cartload. The flow was so strong that a railroad car was pushed off the tracks.

Flickr/Boston Public Library

As Boston Magazine writer Eric Randall (formerly of The Atlantic Wire) observes, the more you know about the Molasses Flood, the more rapidly it moves from "amusingly quirky," to "genuinely horrifying." He digs up a 1983 Smithsonian commemoration that reveals the Wave would have been traveling at 35 miles per hour:

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.

Horrifying.

HT: Boston Magazine.

Top image: Flickr/Boston Public Library.

About the Author

Most Popular

  1. A toxic site in Niagara Falls, New York, seen from above.
    Environment

    The Toxic 'Blank Spots' of Niagara Falls

    The region’s “chemical genies” of the early 20th century were heralded as reaching into the future to create a more abundant life for all. Instead, they deprived future generations of their health and well-being.

  2. A Soviet map of London, labeled in Russian.
    Maps

    The Soviet Military Secretly Mapped the Entire World

    These intricate, curious maps were supposed to be destroyed. The ones that remain reveal a fascinating portrait of how the U.S.S.R. monitored the world.

  3. Maps

    Mapping Where Europe's Population Is Moving, Aging, and Finding Work

    Younger people are fleeing rural areas, migrating northward, and having fewer children. Here’s how that’s changing the region.

  4. MapLab

    Introducing MapLab

    A biweekly tour of the ever-expanding cartographic landscape.

  5. Navigator

    The Gentrification of City-Based Sitcoms

    How the future ‘Living Single’ reboot can reclaim the urban narrative ‘Friends’ ran off with.