On January 15, 1919, in the North End neighborhood of Boston, Massachusetts, something equally horrible and comical occurred. A huge molasses tank, over fifty feet high and ninety feet in diameter, suffered from structural integrity loss. The cause for this is still unknown, but rivets reportedly began to shoot out as the enormous container burst at the seams, prompting more than 2.3 million gallons of molasses to be unleashed from the factory into the nearby city streets. A traumatized witness later described the incredibly gooey incident.
“Molasses, waist deep, covered the street and swirled and bubbled about the wreckage. Here and there struggled a form – whether it was animal or human being was impossible to tell. Only an upheaval, a thrashing about in the sticky mass, showed where any life was…. Horses died like so many flies on sticky fly-paper. The more they struggled, the deeper in the mess they were ensnared. Human beings – men and women – suffered likewise.”
The catastrophe killed 21 people, and injured an additional 150. Their deaths can be considered nothing less than ghastly: molasses, that tasty treat used to make syrup and gingerbread cookies, had suddenly become a nightmarish death trap. The unbelievably sticky nature of the substance further hampered rescue attempts, which had a hard time making their way through the sludge. It was a disaster of the worst kind, requiring a massive number of cleanup hours, and to this day, neighborhood residents still claim that you can smell the faint scent of molasses in extremely hot weather.