Thursday, September 15, 2016

Did You Know the "Great Boston Molasses Flood" Was a Thing?

Because I didn't. Truly, I had no idea that the "Great Boston Molasses Flood" of 1919 was a thing. Everything I know about Boston comes from periodic visits to my aunt and uncle's apartment in Cambridge and the occasional train or road trip to visit friends in the area. Boston is crisp fall leaves, college kids, Fenway Park, NYC's arch-rival, Paul Revere, and impossible driving.

I only learned about the Molasses Disaster from my third-grader. Paige is into this macabre series of Scholastic books right now called "I Survived," each of which tells "a terrifying and thrilling story from history, through the eyes of a boy who lived to tell the tale." (Why it's only a  boy and never a girl, I couldn't tell you, but I won't get indignant about that now because it's beside the point).

From the destruction of Pompei in 79 AD to Hurricane Katrina, these books satisfy my kids' prurient interest in natural and man-made catastrophes without forcing me to fumble for the answers to awkward questions like, "Why did the Nazis want to kill us?" and "Why did the hijackers fly planes into a building?" 

Now we can just download "Five Epic Disasters" onto a Kindle and boom. The twin birds of reading practice and effortful parenting are killed with a single stone.

Anyway, I figured I would have heard of any "Epic Disaster" that might interest a third grader, but I must admit I literally had not heard of two of them at all (The "Children's Blizzard" of 1888 and The Great Boston Molasses Flood of 1919), and had barely a passing memory of a third (The Henryville Tornado of 2012). Only the Titanic disaster and the Japanese Tusnami of 2011 were recognizable to me as epic disasters of common knowledge.

But the Great Molasses Flood happened, and to summarize--stop me if you've heard this before--molasses was a cheap sweetener that doubled as WWI war materiel. A shady industrial distilling company slapped together a giant storage tank full of molasses in the middle of a low-income residential neighborhood in Boston, and proceeded to ignore reports from local residents that it was leaking. Then one day in January 1919, the rivets started popping out of the tank's seams like machine gun fire, the whole thing split open, and a wave of molasses 25 feet high poured into the city, trapping everything and everyone in its wake.

I asked my husband if he had ever heard of this. "Of course!," Geoff scoffed incredulously. "The Red Sox, Dropped "R's", and the Great Molasses Flood. EVERYONE knows about it. How can you have been to Boston and NOT know about the Great Molasses Flood?" I asked him if he was serious, and the look on his face told me no. (I've always been gullible. Along with eating Pirate Booty out of a coffee mug in bed, it's one of my more endearing idiosyncracies).

My takeaway from all of this was the following: I know a lot less than I think I do, and I wish Nutella was a key weapon in the War on Terror and that Nutella Global would build a tank in Juneau.

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