Boston, MA Molasses Flood, Jan 1919


Hugh [sic] Sheets of Steel, Hurled Through Air, Destroy Structures on Boston Waterfront.

BOSTON, Jan. 15. - Probably a dozen persons were killed and fifty injured by the explosion of a huge tank of molasses on the waterfront off Commercial Street, near Kenny Square, today. At a late hour tonight the only bodies identified were those of a fireman, George Leahy, two residents of tenements in the vicinity, Mrs. Bridget Clougherty and William A. Duffee, and James Lennon, a motorman, of Lenox, and J.M. Seiberlich, a blacksmith, also of Lenox. The tank was owned by the Purity Distilling Company, a subsidiary of the United States Industrial Alcohol Company, with a plant in Cambridge.
A dull, muffled roar gave but an instant's warning before the top of the tank was blown into the air. The circular war broke into two great segments of sheet iron which were pulled in opposite directions. Two million gallons of molasses rushed over the streets and converted into a sticky mass the wreckage of several small buildings which had been smashed by the force of the explosion.
The greatest mortality apparently occurred in one of the city buildings, where a score of municipal employes [sic] were eating their lunch. The building was demolished and the wreckage was hurled fifty yards. The other city building, which had an office on the ground floor and a tenement above, was similarly torn from its foundations.
One of the sections of the tank wall fell on the firehouse known as Engine ) [sic], which was near by. The building was crushed and three firemen were buried in the ruins. One, George Leahy, was killed and the other two injured. A fourth fireman was thrown through the window into the water, but was picked up.
Wagons, carts, and motor trucks were overturned. A number of horses were killed. The street was strewn with debris intermixed with molasses and all traffic was stopped.
The first rescue party on the scene was a squad detailed from the State nautical schoolship Nantucket, which was anchored at the playground pier. Under the direction of Lieutenant Commander H.J. Copeland the enlisted men gave first aid to the injured, searched the ruins for bodies, and assisted in patrolling the district. Shortly afterward police reserves arrived, together with a military company from an army station.

Source: New York Times, January 16, 1919



Giant Wave of 2,300,000 Gallons of Molasses, 50 Feet High, Sweeps Everything Before It -- 100 Men, Women, and Children Caught in Sticky Stream -- Buildings, Vehicles, and 'L' Structure Crushed

A 50-foot wave of molasses—2,300,000 gallons of it—released in some manner yet unexplained, from a giant tank, swept over Commercial street and its waterfront from Charter street to the southerly end of North End park yesterday afternoon.
Ensnaring in its sticky flood more than 100 men, women, and children; crushing buildings, teams, automobiles, and street cars—everything in its path—the black, reeking mass slapped against the side of the buildings footing Copp's Hill and then swished back toward the harbor.
Eleven persons—a woman, a girl, and nine men—were the known dead at midnight. More than 50 injured were in hospitals and at their homes. Some of them may die. Dead horses, cats, and dogs have been carted away in team after team….
A rumble, a hiss—some say a boom and a swish—and the wave of molasses swept out. It smote the huge steel girders of the "L" structure and bent, twisted, and snapped them, as if by the smash of a giant's fist. Across the street, down the street, it rolled like a two-sided breaker at the seashore. Thirty feet high, it smashed against tenements on the edge of Copp's Hill. Swirling back it sucked a modest frame dwelling from where it nestled beside the three-story brick tenements and threw it, a mass of wreckage, under the "L" structure.
Then, balked by the staunch brick walls of the houses at the foot of the hill, the death-dealing mass swept back towards the water. Like eggshells it crushed the buildings of the North End yard of the city's paving division…To the north it swirled and wiped out practically all of Boston's only electric freight terminal. Big steel trolley freight cars were crushed as if eggshells, and their piled-up cargo of boxes and merchandise minced like so much sandwich meat.

Source: The Boston Post, January 16, 1919