Wednesday, February 08, 2006

I missed an anniversary

Wherein this tragedy always reminds me of that comedy equation: time plus distance equals humor

On January 15, 1919 an 8-foot wall of molasses killed twenty-one people in Boston. Sounds like an article from The Onion, but it's all true.

I love history, especially the odd little stories like this. If kids in school are bored with history, it's because there's too much emphasis on dry facts and politics without context. Instead, take a story like the Boston Molasses Flood to set the scene and begin investigating from there.

For the scoop, Eric Postpischil's Molasses Disaster Pages is a great place to start. From there, I see there's a book on the disaster I must read.

Dark Tide : The Great Boston Molasses Flood of 1919
In this volume, Puleo, a contributor to American History magazine, sets out to determine whether the collapse of a molasses tank that sent a tidal wave of 2.3 million gallons of the sticky liquid through Boston's North End and killed 21 people was the work of Italian anarchists or due to negligence by the tank's owner, United States Industrial Alcohol. Getting into the minds of the major players in the disaster-USIA suits, victims, witnesses, North End residents, politicians-he re-creates not only the scene but also the social, political and economic environments of the time that made the disaster more than just an industrial accident. While the collapse's aftermath is tragic, the story itself is not exactly gripping. More interesting are the tidbits of Boston's and America's history, such as the importance of molasses to all U.S. war efforts up to and including WWI, which Puleo uses to put the tank collapse in the context of a very complex time in U.S. history. The most striking aspect of this tale is the timeliness of the topics it touches on. Describing Americans being persecuted because of their ethnicity, a sagging economy boosted by war, and terrorism on U.S. soil that results in anti-immigration laws and deportations, Puleo could just as easily be writing about current events as about events in 1919. Overall, this is another piece in the jigsaw puzzle that is Boston's long and rich history. Photos.


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