Boston is the capital of Massachusetts and the spiritual capital of New England. In terms of its physical size, it is relatively small. It is an old town with streets that are so narrow that they are easier to walk on than drive. The Puritans established the city in 1630, and it played a significant part in the Revolutionary War. Today, it remains a major center for education, science, medicine, and culture.
During the 1800s, Boston’s population increased dramatically as Irish, Jewish, and Italian immigrants moved there from Europe. During the 20the century, Puerto Ricans and African Americans settled in Boston after the Second World War. Today, Boston is growing and changing all the time. Officials have been working to honor the city’s history, which includes remembering the Boston Molasses Flood. 100 years after a giant molasses wave hit Boston, the disaster haunts locals in a truly bizarre way.
Boston is also known as Beantown. The reason for this is that for a while, molasses was imported to the city from the Caribbean, and it was the main ingredient in Boston Baked Beans. In 1910, Boston Harbor was the final destination for ships from the Purity Distilling Company, which was a subsidiary of United States Industrial Alcohol Company (USIA). It was there the ships would unload the molasses that were transported from Cuba, the West Indies, and Puerto Rico. Millions of gallons of molasses were coming into the harbor, and even more, came through when the war started.
Molasses could be distilled into alcohol, which could be used for ammunition, such as dynamite. It was heavily in demand during the war, and USIA owned a distillery in Cambridge, Massachusetts. They needed a place to store the unloaded molasses before they could transfer it, and they chose the North End of Boston. This area was overcrowded and made up of 90 percent Italian immigrants. The people there were poor and didn’t have much political power; therefore, it was easy for a big corporation to move in and do what they wanted. In 1915, USIA built a four-story tank on Commerical Street, which was opposite of Copp’s Hill.
The tank was built in a hurry. It was 50-feet tall and 90-feet across. The tank leaked continuously, and attempts were always being made to reseal it. A maintenance worker named Isaac Gonzalez often rushed to the tank in the middle of the night to make sure that the tank hadn’t burst. Workers often took pieces of the broken steel to the firm’s office to prove that it wasn’t safe, but the USIA ignored them.
On the day of the flood, the tank was filled almost to capacity, which rarely ever happened. Around lunchtime on January 15th, the tank exploded. Over 2.3 million gallons of molasses flooded the streets. It was reported that there was a 160-foot-wide wave that was between 15 and 40-feet high. There was no escaping the huge molasses wave, and it swallowed up everyone and everything in its path.
Anyone who has heard the phrase, “As slow as molasses,” knows that it is denser than water and is thick, which makes it move slowly. If you understand physics, you know that it can move very quickly with the force of a mudslide or lava flowing from a volcano. On the day of the flood, the temperatures were mild for that time of year. It didn’t spread as fast as it would have if it were summer, so it remained contained to a two-block radius. When the sun went down, and the temperature dropped, it hardened around everything, and chisels and saws were necessary to break it apart.
There were plenty of casualties after the flood. Part of the tank burst and fell on an elevated train track. One car was driven by the force toward a nearby worker. A boy named Pasquale Iantosca was gathering firewood at the time of the flood. He was 10-years-old at the time, and his father, Giuseppe, was watching him from the window. He was wearing a red sweater, so he was hard to miss. When the molasses wave came, it consumed the boy. When rescuers found his body, he had a broken pelvis, two broken arms, and his sweater was molasses brown. He was one of the 21 people who were killed. Eighteen of them were Italian immigrants or Irish workers.
As if the casualties weren’t enough, over 150 people were injured. While a 78-year-old woman watched her house being swallowed up, she suffered a broken jaw. Her sister was severely disfigured and then suffered a massive stroke. It took days for the authorities to find her body. One man was swept 35-feet by the molasses, and he survived by holding onto a ladder. Many of the victims couldn’t breathe because their lungs had filled up with molasses.
Days and Months
The flood was so severe that it took days and even months for the people who died to be found. It took 11 days for Flaminio Gallerani to be found, and a wagon driver named Cesare Nicolo wasn’t pulled from the water for four months. Eventually, the flood led to the first class-action suit against a major corporation, and the victims of the flood won. USIA was ordered to pay the plaintiffs $628,000.
Many people believe that the tiny plaque that exists to remember those who died in the tragedy isn’t enough. It is the second biggest disaster in Boston in regards to fatalities, second to the Coconut Grove nightclub fire in 1942 which killed 492 people. On a hot summer day in Boston, you can still smell the sweet odor in the North End.