• Monday marks 99 years since molasses flooded the North End


    BOSTON - It started as a 50-foot high wave that swept through the North End. 

    Everything in its path was left covered in a sticky, sweet syrup. 

    The Boston Daily Globe, Jan. 16, 1919
    The Boston Daily Globe, Jan. 16, 1919

    On January 16, 1919, a molasses tank exploded in the North End, letting out approximately 1,500,000 gallons of molasses. 

    The molasses, used to make alcohol, was in a 50-foot-tall container off of Commercial Street. The giant wave caught everything in the sticky stream - men, women children, vehicles, structures. It crushed the elevated railway structure on Commercial Street and Atlantic Avenue and destroyed buildings. Twenty-one people died, including a child and a firefighter, and at least 150 were injured. 

    Along with the original 50-foot wave, an eight-foot wave moved down Commerical Street at a speed of 35 mph, according to old newspaper clippings. 

    The Boston Daily Globe's subheadline read "scene of ruin and desolation in North End."

    It took months for the sweet smell to clear the air and the Boston Harbor was stained brown until the summer.

    The area is now a park with a small plaque memorializing those lost, but the disaster forever changed the North End.

    "All of the wharfs were wooden at the time and they all got knocked over or burned away and so they all rebuilt them with granite and brick and that caused a lot of changes in the area," said Vince Morelli, North End resident.

    The mayor at the time ordered an investigation into the disaster.

    "Boston is appalled at the terrible accident which occurred today in the North End. On behalf of her citizens, I extend to the families of those who were and of those who lost their lives, our most heartfelt sympathy. Boston will aid them in every way," said Mayor Peters. 

    A judge eventually ruled that a lack of oversight and planning from the molasses company led to the disaster. He awarded the victims $628,000 in damages, the equivalent of about $8 million today. 

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