Dark Tide : The Great Boston Molasses Flood of 1919 by Stephen Puleo

It’s amazing how books, seemingly unrelated, can be linked. Last year I read a junior fiction book, 13 Hangmen by Art Corriveau. In it, through time travel, a boy in Boston meets other boys of his age who lived in his room over a long period of history. One of those boys relates the story of “the Molasses Flood”. I couldn’t believe I had never heard of this event. And neither had anyone I talked to.

Dark Tide begins in December,1915, when a company is underway with its plans to build a 50 foot tall storage tank to hold molasses. It discusses at length the situation regarding the Italian immigrants that lived in Boston’s North End, where the tank was being built. It talks about molasses, rum and Boston’s participation and role in the slave trade.  It then goes into the new use for molasses: making industrial alcohol to be used in munitions due to the beginning of WWI. It also discusses the unrest by anarchists who made frequent use of bombs throughout the country.

On January 15, 1919, the tank collapsed sending out a 35 mph, 15 foot high wave of 2.3 million gallons of molasses (weighing 26 million pounds)  sweeping away houses, railroad elevated tracks and a police station not to mention men, women, children and horses.

The rest of the book concerns the hearing that finally (in 1925) found United States Industrial Alcohol, one of America’s biggest companies, guilty of negligence. USIA contended that the collapse was due to an anarchist’s bomb, a claim that was shown to be faulty.

Dark Tide is well researched and well written. It flows in an easy manner. There are photographs taken in 1919 but it isn’t easy to see details in them. This was an interesting read about an event that I had not been aware of. For younger readers I also recommend 13 Hangmen. ( )

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  1. When I first heard about the Molasses Flood, I had a similar feeling. When I was on the DCF Committee years ago, there were two children’s books about the flood.It is another example of how little business cares about anything but profit. This seems a part of American history that we have forgotten. Instead of oil spills, we had molasses spills.

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