Andover Townsman, Andover, MA


February 13, 2014

Reliving the odd horror of Boston's Molasses Flood


The definitive book on the subject is Stephen Puleo’s “Dark Tide: The Great Molasses Flood of 1919,” (Beacon Press, 2003, 2004). Puleo describes the reaction inside the fire station, “... a group of firefighters was playing cards ... when they heard a tremendous crash. It was like roaring surf, one of them said later. Like a runaway, two-horse team smashing through a fence, said another. A third firefighter jumped up from his chair to look out a window — ‘Oh my God!’ he shouted to the other men, `Run!’”

It’s hard to imagine the horror of drowning in molasses. No matter how hard you fight or how strong you are, once you are covered with the pervasive stickiness there is little chance of surviving. You would exhaust yourself within seconds. It is not only an odd way to die, it is terrifying.

The tank’s owner was U.S. Industrial Alcohol, and it blamed anarchists for the tragedy. Their theory made sense because the corporation had its New York facilities bombed by anarchists. It was during the Great War, and U.S. Industrial Alcohol converted molasses into alcohol that was used to make munitions.

Additionally, there had been numerous explosions in the Boston area in the past year, but there was not enough evidence linking anarchists to the tank collapse. After protracted litigation, the owners were found liable for monetary damages to the victims’ families.


Bill Dalton writes an occasional column for the Andover Townsman. His email address is

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