--- In Distillers@yahoogroups.com
, Andrew Forsberg <andrew@u...>
> If I never have to clean up after "the big WHUMP" still-cum-
> an enormous blue flame I'll be very happy indeed. The mash
> 2003 was plenty exciting enough for me, I can assure you. :)
It could be worse...
Great Molasses Flood that swept through part of Boston,
Massachusetts on January 15, 1919.
At this time in history, molasses was America's primary sweetener.
It was used to make all types of cookies, cakes, bread, and
Due to its popularity at the time, there were many molasses
factories, warehouses, and storage tanks lining the shores of
Boston. After all, Boston was considered to be the distilling
capital of the United States.
To tell this story, we are only concerned with one of these
facilities - a large storage tank located in Boston's north end -
near the sites where the world famous Fanuel Hall (Quincy Market)
and the New England Aquarium stand today.
This was no small tank of molasses. The tank stood over 50 feet
tall. Estimates of its capacity range from 2.2 to 2.5 million
And we all know where this story is going.
A sudden thunderous cracking sound was heard. The tank exploded and
all the molasses began to flow down the city streets.
The actual wall of molasses was estimated to be from 15 - 30 feet
high and moved at 25-35 miles per hour in the area around the tank.
The depth was only (only?!!) several feet in the surrounding area.
You could not outrun this thing.
There was no chance of saving anyone in its destructive path. Anyone
that attempted to go near the sticky goo got stuck in it themselves
and could have been cooked alive. It could suck your boots right off
The flood killed twenty-one people and injured an additional 150.
Some were suffocated, some cooked, and others were swept by the wave
into the harbor. I guess you could say that these unfortunate people
were molassassed to death. Not exactly how I wish to go.
The wave also destroyed millions of dollars worth of property. Homes
and warehouses were swept off their foundations and destroyed. Even
part of the city's elevated train line was destroyed.
Once the flood stopped, cleanup began. They could not remove the
trapped horses from the sticky mess, so they had to shoot them to
death. Freshwater from the fire hydrants would not wash away the
molasses, so salt water from the harbor had to be sprayed on the
It took over six months to remove the molasses from the cobblestone
streets, theaters, businesses, automobiles, and homes. The Boston
Harbor was also stained brown for six months (must have made for a
beautiful photo opportunity).
Believe it or not, there were reports that the molasses would
actually continue to creep out of the ground and cracks in the
sidewalks for 30 years! Others claim that you can still smell traces
of it on a very hot day in the city.
So what happened to cause this mess?
No one is really sure, but there are two theories:
First, it was believed that the tank was overfilled due to the
impended threat of prohibition. It cracked open due to the extra
An alternative explanation has to do with the weather that day. On
the prior day, the temperature was only 2 degrees Fahrenheit above
zero. On the day of the accident, it had quickly shot up to an
unseasonably warm 40 degrees. Some believe that this caused rapid
expansion of the molasses and overstressed the tank.
This accident is certainly one that will stick in the minds of
Bostonians for many years to come.
(original newspaper article:
New York Times, Jan 16 1919
An elaboration on the second theory came to light recently. Natural
spontaneous fermentation of molasses is possible under certain
conditions, such as poor refining, and the presence of heat and
humid conditions. It's not uncommon to find naturally occurring
proteins such as gluten in significant quantity in low grade
molasses. This is all that's required (together with warm weather)
to start fermentation. In a tank that size, well it's obvious what
the outcome would be.