Of all the disasters that have occurred in the United States, the Great Molasses Flood in Boston was one of the most bizarre. Imagine a city neighborhood awash in molasses: that dark brown, sweet-and-sour liquid that sticks to everything like honey—the same stuff that makes gingerbread men taste so good.
It sounds like a bad joke. But as the people of Boston discovered on January 15, 1919, a dark, rushing wave of molasses can be as destructive as a tornado.
The people who lived along the narrow, hilly streets of Boston’s North End and worked on the nearby waterfront were not expecting a disaster. In fact, they thought life in Boston was getting better.
The city’s battle with a terrible disease had just ended. In late August 1918 a mysterious illness called the Spanish influenza had arrived on the shores of the United States. Boston was the first stop on its deadly race through the country.
In early October the mayor of Boston closed the city’s schools, churches, and dance halls to try to keep the disease from spreading. A month later the worst of the epidemic was over in the city. Six thousand Boston residents had died of the flu.
By late fall 1918 things in Boston were looking up. Everyone had been thrilled when Babe Ruth helped the Red Sox win the World Series. Then in November the fighting in Europe stopped. The Great War was finally over, and the American troops—hundreds of thousands of them—were coming home.
January 1919 was a hopeful time. Schools had reopened. So had the soda fountains, where kids went to buy Cokes. On New Year’s Eve tens of thousands of cheering, singing Bostonians gathered to ring in the new year. They jammed the city’s cafés and hotels and overflowed into the streets. Everyone seemed thrilled that life in this old port city was returning to normal.
Copyright © 2015 by Deborah Kops (Author). All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.