How fast is molasses in January? According to this great unplanned examination of the question, thirty-five miles an hour.
Near Commercial Street between Copp's Hill and North End Park there stood a vast tank, 58 feet tall and 90 feet in diameter. This tank was filled with molasses. January 15, 1919 was a warm day in Boston, the temperature having risen from the twenties to about 41 degrees. The tank burst. The ensuing flood took the lives of horses, dogs, cats, and 21 human beings.
It is said that it took about two weeks for more than 300 workers to clean up the molasses. The harbor was still brown with the stuff the next summer. The hearings at law were finally completed after six years, proving once again that laborers work faster than lawyers, of whom there were so many that the courthouse wouldn't hold them. The United States Industrial Alcohol Company which owned the molasses claimed the flood was the result of sabotage. They were held liable and had to pay out claims in excess of six hundred thousand dollars, which would amount to many millions in today's inflated dollars. The company went out of business.
Some say that on a warm day, one can still smell molasses in the area. Of course, there are some who still say the Earth is flat.
(I posted a companion piece about the Beer Flood back in October.)
1. John Mason, “Eric Postpischil's Molasses Disaster Pages, Yankee Magazine Article,” Eric Postpischil's Domain, 14 June 2009, <http://edp.org/molyank.htm> accessed 14 January 2013.
2. Wikipedia, including image