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Boston to honor victims of the Great Molasses Flood in ceremony at the site

Molasses tank as seen from elevated railroad along Commercial Street

Pre-explosion view of tank from Commercial Street el, from Boston City Archives.

The Boston Archaeology Program, Parks Department and Landmarks Commission will commemorate the 21 people who died in a flood of molasses on Jan. 15, 1919, in a ceremony that starts at 10:30 a.m. on Tuesday at Langone Park in the North End - near where a tank of hot molasses burst, sending a flood of girder-bending goo down Commercial Street.

Other molasses-related events.

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Comments

When the Molasses Flood gets its turn as a Ken Burns documentary, I expect Adam to narrate some of the stories in one of those Olde Timey voices.....

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What catastrophes are on the horizon for Boston environs?

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1919? We mine as well honor any other person who ever perished in any manner during all years of history.

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Hope you're enjoying your stay here! You might want to attend tomorrow's commemoration to find out why this particular event, involving these particular deaths, looms so large in the history of Boston as to warrant being marked specifically.

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Some thoughts ought not be spoken, nor acknowledged when illegible....mine as well.....what is that......

Thanks Adam an event that needs more exposure sad what the company did

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Well excuse me Mr. Important. I’m sure the whole nation will be mourning this localized tragedy from a hundred years ago. Maybe we should make it a nation wide day or mourning.

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Hope you're leaving before the weekend, though. We might get this stuff called snow, and you won't like it.

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Sounds like a typical Masshole to me.

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"4th of July party? People sign documents every day and I don't make potato salad for THEM"

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*might

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We got it, despite your typo. You're still pretty ignorant.

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40 years ago, this event was included as a case study in mechanical and civil engineering courses at Harvard, MIT, and Northeastern.

Kind of an important molassesshed event

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Similar to the Cocoanut Grove tragedy, the laws (codes) were changed to ensure this doesn't happen again. The owners tried to hide behind the threat of anarchists (molasses was used to make industrial alcohol for the war effort) but it was plain old greed that made this happen from the design and installation to the maintenance of it. A teachable moment for engineers. When I was in school, the profs emphasized the mistakes of the past to din into us the responsibility to the public trust to basically not kill them. We didn't study this but I wish we had. The book Dark Tide is very informative though.

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Perhaps the first really large and famous class-action lawsuit?

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How often do 21 people die at once in Boston? We tend to remember and learn from our mass-casualty events (see also the Cocoanut Grove fire, and even the much less lethal Great Fire of 1872).

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I wish people would stop using the word "explosion" to describe this event. The tank burst, it didn't explode. It was poorly constructed and the steel sheets and/or rivets weren't strong enough to hold the weight of the contents when the tank was filled to the top. The specifications for the tank called for steel plates that weren't thick enough to sustain the forces that would be involved; and the contractor used steel that was even thinner than the specifications. No explosion!

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My other favorite detail from Puleo's book was that when the tank leaked in the years leading up to its failure, rather than fix the problem, the owner had the tank painted a darker color, to hide the leaks.

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That detail sticks in my mind too. This wasn't an accident, it was absolute negligence and most certainly could have been prevented. Very sad indeed.

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Dark Tide was an interesting and intriguing read -- you have trouble "puting it down"

However, we really don't know all of the factors involved from a forensic engineering perspective. Many engineering disasters found to be the result of a mixture of mistakes and lack of knowledge by those designing, fabricating, operating and maintaining buildings, bridges, ships, aircraft, tunnels, etc. Sometimes all of this is coupled with malice and just plain natural events. For example someone leaves out some washers in the installation of a glass bridge in a hotel lobby and then years later someone else allows dancing to occur on the inadequately supported bridge-- Booom!!.

Just like the Titanic where in addition to the iceberg there were metallurgical issues -- so too in the case of the Molasses Tank. Both events happened in a early 20th C , a time before x-ray /, gamma ray and ultrasound inspection of welds, etc.no scanning electron microscopes to peer into the crystal structure of the metal] a time when metallurgical forensics was more about following [or lack of following] "rules of thumb." -- for example there was no way to look beyond a conventional microscope at the crystal structure of the steel to see how it had responded under stress..

In both the Molasses and Titanic events --- Temperatures both inside and ambient played a role in how the metals reacted to the stresses with which the Tank and the Titanic were subjected

So was safety margin shaving involved in the design, fabrication and operation of the Molasses Tank -- most probably -- though unprovably.so

It probably wasn't the best location for the tank -- right in the midst of the most densely populated part of Boston. Had the tank be constructed in the South Boston Seaport about where the Bank of [evolving paradigm name] Pavilion is located -- there would have been some sticky railroad tracks, possibly some sheds destroyed -- but probably no loss of life

Still All-in-All -- a uniquely Boston event what with all the direct and indirect historic references and such

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In the trial afterwards, the company tried to use the excuse that there was an explosion - that anarchists had tried blowing up the tank - to deflect culpability from them. They lost the case (obviously) because the tank was unstable to begin with, and failed due to extreme structural failure, not due to an explosion. You can tell I just finished Puleo's book! (Also, having been really into this in the past few weeks, and with living so close to the site, the photo on this page - one I haven't seen before - is super creepy.)

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Partly because we always read about the tank explo ... um, bursting, and we always see pictures of the aftermath, but rarely of the tank itself and there it is, big and ominous and just the very definition of foreshadowing (if you go to the Archives collection linked under the photo, you can find another picture, of an elevated train passing by the tank).

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I find that photo of the elevated train passing by the tank especially creepy: The smallish wooden house immediately to the left of the train was the Clougherty house. Mrs. Clougherty was killed when the upper stories of the house collapsed on the first floor, where she was when the tank burst. Nothing has ever been built on the site; it's now a small parking lot for the adjacent brick buildings. I think the building at right, with the mansard roof, was the Public Works building where five men died; the fire station, where George Leahy drowned, is just out of view to the right.

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the death count would have been higher as the deluge knocked down a section of the elevated tracks. The driver saw this in time and ran to the back of the trolley (where the only brakes were apparently - also a bad design) and managed to stop the trolley from toppling to the ground into the flood. Seeing how close the tracks were to the tank is a little chilling.

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How did the driver make ordinary stops at stations?

BTW, these were not trolley tracks. They had a third rail (visible in the photo) and carried what we would now call Orange Line cars.

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I don't have time to read up on the Molasses Flood, what with all this internet posting. Is there a movie about this event, preferably one starring Mark Wahlberg?

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