Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Sweet Surrender? This is downright astonishing....

I'll never look at a piece of gingerbread in the same way again. In the last few days the subject of molasses has come up in three very different ways. Melisssa Smith Abbot did a series of videos on how to bake her famous Anadama bread and she shows how to properly prepare the molasses to be used in her bread. Then I was doing some research for the eleventh story in my Marienstadt collection which is about Prohibition and how a bunch of moonshiners got caught because a railroad car full of molasses that leaked and gave away their operation. Finally, last night a friend recommended the book Dark Tide: The Great Boston Molasses Flood of 1919 which tells an astonishing story!

In 1919 the North End of Boston was flooded with over 2 million gallons of dark, sweet, sticky molasses when a storage tank burst. Twenty-one people and twenty horses died, buried in a sea of molasses. Somehow this is hard for me to comprehend. 
 I know this neighborhood in Boston well and it is beautiful. It has always been an Italian neighborhood and is on the waterfront with lots of wharves and docking space. Back in the early part of the 20th century, molasses was shipped in from Cuba and the West Indies to be made into alcohol for munitions manufacturing plants.
 The molasses was unloaded from ships into a storage tank in the North End. From there it was loaded into the tank cars of trains and sent off to distilleries to be made into industrial alcohol.
For months before the seams of the tank had been seeping molasses and neighborhood children had been scooping it up and licking their fingers. Then something happened, the molasses began to rumble and boil and BOOM! You can read all about it on Wikipedia or here in this article in Wired:

1919: A giant molasses tank blows up, sending a wall of thick, sticky syrup through the streets of a Boston neighborhood. The blast and the molasses flood kill 21 people and injure 150.
The Purity Distilling Company built the tank in 1915 on the waterfront of Boston's North End, a populous neighborhood of Italian immigrants just a few blocks from the city's financial and downtown shopping districts. With a diameter of 90 feet and 50 feet high, the iron tank could hold about 2½ million gallons of molasses, ready to be distilled into rum or industrial alcohol.
At least, it could hold the molasses until shortly after noon on Jan. 15, 1919. No one is sure what caused the disaster. Workers and neighbors had complained about the tank leaking for years, so the owner painted it brown to hide the leaks. But the disaster was likely not due to overfilling, because the tank didn't merely give way — it exploded.
The local temperature had risen from 2 degrees above zero to the 40s in a couple of days. It's possible that the rapid heating started a fermentation process, or that newly added warm molasses somehow reacted with colder molasses lower in the tank.
Whatever caused the explosion, the tank gave out a dull roar, and then its two sides flew outward with a mighty blast. One huge piece knocked out the support of an elevated railway, buckling the tracks. An engineer stopped his train just in time to avoid an even worse disaster. Fragments of metal landed 200 feet away.
Besides sending shrapnel whizzing through the air, the explosion flattened people, horses and buildings with a huge shockwave. As some tried to get to their feet, the sudden vacuum where the tank once was created a reverse shockwave, sucking air in and knocking people, animals and vehicles around once more, and shaking homes off their foundations.
That was just the first few seconds. The real terror was about to begin. Read the rest here.
I'm definitely learning a lot which I know will work its way into my story! I love research!!! Thanks for reading.

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