by chelsea schuyler
The Great Molasses Flood
Happy Halloween everyone!!
This year I would like to dedicate my blog to one of the oddest forms of death: drowning. In Molasses.
The most famous account of which is of course the Great Molasses Flood (aka Boston Molasses Disaster) of January, 1919. An enormous vat of molasses five stories high split open, spilling 2.3 million gallons of molasses and dangerous debris into the streets.
A wave 22 feet high surged through town at 35 miles an hour, killing 21 people and injuring 150. Twenty horses also perished.
The thing about molasses is that it flows nothing like water. It is a non-Newtonian fluid (see “Quick, Sand” blog) and according to Scientific American, can be significantly more devastating than a tsunami.
Molasses is 5000-10,000 times more viscous than water (depending on its production), making it impossible to survive an encounter of such freakish proportions especially if you might be feeling at all panicked.
Why did the tank explode? Maybe because it was filled to the brink 6 months earlier, leaving little room for the carbon dioxide gas released by likely fermentation.
The courts also blamed the owners of the tank for turning a blind eye to structural instability. Rumors say they even painted the entire thing brown to hide the leak stains.
It was also an unusually warm day that January, causing a dramatic shift in temperature inside the tank. But no pressure, tank.
The memory of the deceased will never be forgotten. There are dozens of photos of confusing wreckage where you can’t really see any molasses or know what the scale is but it’s no doubt tragi-cal.
Those who lost their lives are also commemorated on the following tiny, tiny plaque for all carrying a magnifying glass to see.
Molasses Disasters in Hawaii, Ozarks, Mexico
Freak as the whole incident seems, it’s apparently not that uncommon. We humans just can’t get a handle on molasses, and tend to drop a few hundred thousand gallons here and there.
Like just last month when a faulty pipe transferring molasses to a California-bound ship leaked 1400 tons (230,000 gallons) of molasses into the waters near Waikiki, killing 26,000 fish and other animals and wreaking as yet unknown extents of havoc on coral reefs.
Don’t worry hundreds of species of little fish. There’s plenty of fish in the s—…well.
And then in 2004, when Purina Mills (of dog food fame) hired a company to dispose of their 50,000 gallons of spoiled molasses. But instead of taking it to a treatment plant, the guy dumped it all into a sinkhole, which he did not realize would filter down into the pristine Ozark water supply and flow out of two springs which lead into the nearby, and ironically named, Clear Creek. Many fish were killed and citizens were outraged.
Molasses struck again in July of this year when a small village in Jalisco, Mexico was the victim of molasses dumping from an industrial cattle farm 12 kilometers away. Villagers and restaurant owners depend on fish and tourism for their livelihoods, so 500 tons worth of dead, molasses soaked fish aren’t so much helpful.
How To Explain it to Your Children
So, molasses, what a hoot! But there’s more! If you’re like me, and I know I am, when you think horrifically odd tragedy you think, Children’s book!
Follow Patrick as his craving for molasses leads him to take the family molasses pail (was that a thing?) to the market, when boom! A wacky explosion covers him head to toe with molasses.
When he gets home, his mother, who apparently lives in a hole in the ground at the edge of town, doesn’t believe him and sends him to bed with a scolding until father comes home looking the same way.
What a caper! In the sequels, Patrick can look forward to years of therapy dealing with the trauma of the town’s death toll and the self-confidence-shattering of his own mother’s Molasses-Holocaust denial.