Tuesday, January 22, 2008

Boston Molasses Disaster

The other day when Matt was on the computer, he asked, “Did you know about this?” and started reading something that sounded ridiculous (surely an urban legend) about an enormous tank of molasses that accidentally exploded back in January of 1919 pouring 2,300,000 gallons of molasses into the streets of the North End in Boston. The brown tidal wave of molasses, moving at an estimated speed of 35 miles an hour and reaching several feet high, supposedly rushed through the streets, demolishing small buildings, injuring 150 people, and killing another 21, the force of the explosion breaking the girders of a nearby railway and lifting the train right off the tracks.

What? Pshaw! Surely, you must be kidding. Some Internet hoaxter with too much time on his hands must just be having some fun, inspired by Boston’s authentic history (i.e., the Boston Tea Party) to concoct a flamboyantly ironic counterpoint to that old saying “As slow as molasses in January.”

Matt continued: “The smell supposedly lingered for many years; according to local folklore, molasses left from this disaster can still be smelled on hot days.” My response: “I don’t know. I’ve smelled something in the streets of the North End on hot days, but I’m telling you, . . . it’s not molasses.” Without doubt, I concluded, the Urban Legends Reference Pages will have a related entry debunking this silly myth (a fantastic site for myth-busting of this sort, by the by).

Well, color me surprised! After further Internet investigation on the Urban Legends Reference Pages and Wikipedia, we verified that – this story is actually true! Gosh, I hate it when I’m ignorant of my own quirky hometown history. I can’t tell you how often I’ve been to the North End! I even worked in a bakery there over a summer while I was in college. And I didn’t know?! Oh what a very “improper Bostonian” I am. Excuse me while I go hang my head in shame.

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