Imagine a 40-foot wall of molasses turning a harborside neighborhood upside down.
It was a hopeful time in Boston. The worst of the Spanish influenza was over, World War I had just ended and Babe Ruth had helped the Red Sox win the World Series the previous fall. But on January 15, 1919, in Boston’s North End, on a sunny, warm day, the molasses tank in the neighborhood blew. More than 2,300,000 gallons of molasses, weighing 13,000 tons, flowed down the street, uplifting houses, twisting railroad tracks and killing 21 people. Fallen elevated train tracks, dead horses, collapsed buildings and crushed cars made the areas look as though a tornado had come through. The smell of molasses in the neighborhood didn’t fade until 1995, though the memory of the event has. Using firsthand testimony from the 40-volume transcript from Dorr v. U.S. Industrial Alcohol, the hearings that followed the event, Kops has done a fine job of resurrecting the story and recreating the day through third-person stories of the actual players. Had she retained some of the first-person accounts, she may have lent her narrative greater immediacy, but it is nevertheless an intriguing read. A useful map, abundant archival photographs and sidebars offering historical context complement the lively prose.
A fascinating account of a truly bizarre disaster. (index) (Nonfiction. 9-12)