‘Rolling Walls of Molasses, 15 Feet High, Scraped Everything in Their Paths’

On the morning of Wednesday, January 15, 1919, Boston’s newspaper editors were already bracing for what was sure to be a huge news day. The 18th amendment was about to be ratified, making the nation “dry.” Europe was in turmoil.

Then, that afternoon, an enormous tank holding 2.3 million gallons of molasses exploded in the North End, killing 21 people and injuring 150.

Author Stephen Puleo described the initial explosion:

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“Rolling walls of molasses, fifteen feet high, scraped everything in their paths, carrying a wreckage of animals, humans, furniture, produce, beer barrels, railroad cars, automobiles, and wagons, and smashing them against other buildings, into the street, or sweeping them into the harbor.”

An article in The Boston Post described the scene:

“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 trashing 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 front pages of Boston newspapers from Thursday (January 16) show the attempts to balance the many stories that belonged ‘above the fold.’

A small plaque currently marks the location where the 50-foot tall molasses tank once stood.