This week the city marked the 100th anniversary of its most peculiar disaster: the Great Flood of Molasses.
It struck without warning on the afternoon of January 15, 1919, when a gigantic storage tank with more than 2.3 million liters of molasses suddenly tore, causing a gigantic wave of vulture to flow through the cobbled streets of the bustling North End.
The initial wave rose at least 25 feet high – almost as big as an NFL goal post – and it destroyed everything in its path, killing 21 people and injuring 150 others. Rivets popped like machine gun fire. Elevated railway lines attached. Warehouses and firehouses were pushed around like playing pieces on a Monopoly board. Homes were reduced to kindling.
The elimination of the molasses was excluded. The first one drove 35 mph through the port area. Even Usain Bolt, who was fastest at his world record just under 28 miles per hour, could have sprinted in safety.
In this January 15, 1919, photo of the stock, the ruins of tanks with more than 2 million liters of molasses lie in a heap after eruption along the waterfront in the North End district of Boston. Several buildings were flattened during the disaster, killing 21 people and injuring 150 others. (AP photo / file)And yet a century later, the catastrophe remains hidden in relative obscurity.
"When you hear it for the first time, the molasses give the whole event this unusual whimsical quality.The substance itself begs some unbelief," said historian Stephen Puleo, author of "Dark Tide & # 39 ;," a book about the disaster .
"The first reaction of people is:" Do you seriously mean that? Did that really happen? & # 39; If it was fire or flooding, hunger or pestilence, this story would be much better known, & # 39; he said.
The tragedy struck when the troops of the First World War returned from Europe and Boston still cherished a victory of the World Series by Red Sox of Babe Ruth.
The tank was owned by the Purity Distilling Co., and its syrupy content was mostly used to make alcohol for war ammunition, but also to produce rum before the ban began. In an ironic period, the day after the disaster, Nebraska became the decisive 36th state to ratify the eighteenth amendment prohibiting the production, sale and consumption of alcoholic beverages in the US.
It tore apart in the oldest district of the city, a district popular with tourists and locals because of the maze of old streets full of Italian restaurants and historic sites, including the home of Paul Revere and the Old North Church. Those valuable monuments were spared because they were uphill.
"A boring, muffled roar gave only a warning warning before the top of the tank was blown up," The Associated Press reported that day. Rescuers were "seriously hampered by the dripping flood of molasses that covered the street and the surrounding neighborhood to a depth of several centimeters and slowly walked into the harbor. … When a laborer stopped for a moment, he noticed that he was on the ground. was stuck. & # 39;
Most deaths were killed by church workers while eating lunch in a city building. Two tenants, a firefighter, a driver and a blacksmith were also killed, along with horses and other animals.
"Only a revolution, a scourge in the sticky mass, showed where a life was," the Boston Post reported. "Horses died like so many flies on sticky fly paper, the more they struggled, the deeper they were in the mess."
Among the dead was a young girl, one of the many children from the neighborhood who was pulled to the leaking tank with sticks and buckets to collect the sweet molasses that ran from the bottom.
Archaeologists from the University of Massachusetts-Boston have found ground-breaking radar and other detection techniques that look like the bottom of the tank 20 inches underground, they said Monday in a blog post.
In 2016, researchers from the University of Harvard published a study that explained the heavy loss of human lives. Two days before the disaster the tank was covered with a new load of molasses from the sultry Caribbean Sea, which had not yet cooled down to the winter temperatures of Boston. As soon as the syrup of molasses touched the cold air, it quickly became thickened, making the panic efforts of aid workers to liberate victims more difficult.
The parent company of Purity Distilling, U.S. Industrial Alcohol, argued that anarchists who were active at the time had planted a bomb that shredded the tank. But researchers concluded that the construction of the tank was defective. A judge found the company guilty of negligence and ordered to pay $ 300,000 – the equivalent of about $ 4.5 million today – in damages to victims and their families.
Defective steel, similar to what was used to build the Titanic, went into the tank, said Ronald Mayville, a structural integrity engineer who spent much of his career studying exactly what went wrong.
"When that tank was built, supervision was almost gone," he said. "It was not just one thing, which is very common in the case of major failures: all the stars, all the planets, perfectly in line."
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