Yesterday was the 92nd anniversary of one of the strangest tragedies ever to take place on American soil. It’s the stuff of Weekly World News or The Onion. Yet it was a very real, deadly, (and delicious) disaster. To this day on hot summer days in an old Boston neighborhood, residents swear that they can smell a vague odor of molasses. It’s a sweet-smelling reminder of a day when some 150 people were injured; 21 people and several horses were killed by a sudden flood of molasses.
It was an an unusually warm day on January 15, 1919 — 40˚ F. Back then, molasses was the standard sweetener in the United States; Molasses can also be fermented to produce rum and ethyl alcohol, the active ingredient in other alcoholic beverages and a key component in the manufacturing of munitions at the time.
Purity Distilling Company was doing big business. A large quantity of stored molasses was awaiting transfer to the Purity plant. The stored molasses was near Keany Square, at 529 Commercial Street, in a huge molasses tank 50 ft (15 m) tall, 90 ft (27 m) in diameter and containing as much as 2,300,000 US gal (8,700,000 L).