The Molasses Disaster

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Highlighting Historical Romance with Kathy Otten.

While the characters and their story are fictitious, this story is based on a true event, a disaster that took place in 1919.

January 15, 1919 was an unseasonably warm day. For residents of Boston’s North End things were finally looking up.

On November 11, 1918, the Armistice had been signed, bringing an end to World War I. The Spanish Influenza Pandemic that had swept the nation, killing thousands was ending.

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A common sight for residents was fifty foot molasses storage tank owned by the United States Industrial Alcohol. Molasses would drip from the seams and children would come with their pails to collect it. To hide the leaks, the company first painted the tank brown, then shortly before Christmas a workman on scaffolding caulked the seams.

Temperatures were in the teens on Sunday January 12, 1919, when a ship unloaded 600,000 gallons of molasses on top of the molasses already in the tank.

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On Wednesday, January 15th, the temperatures rose to forty degrees, lifting spirits and drawing everyone outdoors.  But that same mid-day sun silently warmed the molasses.

Just after noon, the seams of the tank ruptured with what sounded like an explosion. 2.3 million gallons of molasses spilled in a 15 foot wave through Boston’s North End.

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Traveling at thirty-five miles per hour, a wave with the force of 26,000,000 pounds of molasses slammed into people and buildings. The supports of the elevated train were twisted. The chicken slaughter house was wiped out. Wooden homes were flattened. The city livery stables and the North End paving yard were destroyed. The brick fire station was knocked off its foundation as the second floor pan caked onto the first, trapping firefighters.

Twenty-one people were killed, and one hundred and fifty injured, some of whom had lifelong disability as a result. Horses died. Property damage was estimated to be more than a million dollars by today’s standard.

The tank’s owners claimed anarchists had dynamited the tank in protest of the United States government. After a ten-year court battle, United States Industrial Alcohol was found liable for the structural failure and ordered to pay compensation to the victims of the disaster, who were mostly poor Irish and Italian immigrants.

About the Book: After the Dark

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Months in the trenches of France have left Liam Gallagher wondering why he has survived when better men did not. His guilt intensifies when he returns home only to come down with the deadly Spanish Influenza sweeping the country. Once again Liam lives when thousands do not.

Now the only bright spot in his monotonous life is the time he spends each day walking with Rosalie Moretti. Their talks give him hope for the future, a future possibly to include this vibrant, loving woman. Until one dark, catastrophic afternoon, when Liam realizes the reason his life was spared has come down to minutes and his ability to perform one selfless act.


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~an excerpt~

The warmth of Rosalie’s palm pressed against his free hand. Heat rushed to his cheeks, and between their palms, his skin dampened. He laced his fingers with hers. With the pad of his thumb, he traced the top of her hand. Her skin was so smooth. Were all women this soft, or had he just never noticed?

She tugged him forward, and loath to release his hold, he followed her up the steps.

He cast one quick glance over his shoulder toward the city livery and blacksmith shop. He should return to his beat, walk around the tank, and chase away the lads and lasses who’d come with their pails to collect the constantly dripping molasses.

But when he looked back at Rosalie, a secretive smile teased the edges of her full lips, as though she were aware of her own seductive power over him. And like a green lad, fresh off the boat, he allowed her to lead him inside.

About the Author

Kathy Otten is the mother of three grown children and lives in the open farm country of western NY with her husband of thirty-two years. She enjoys taking long walks with her German Shepherd Max, through the fields and woods near her home. In the winter she likes to curl up with a good book and one or two of her five cats, while the snow blows outside. In between family, work and animals she can be found at her computer weaving stories of laughter, heartache, and love for the crazy cast of characters swirling around in her head.





6 thoughts on “The Molasses Disaster

  1. Hi Carolline,
    Thanks for having me stop by today. I noticed a mistake I made in the wording of facts. I just want to correct really quick. I wrote. “… 26,000,000 pounds of force…” and I meant to say something like, “… with the force/power of 26,000,000 pounds of molasses.”

  2. I remember my dad telling me about that incident. It was two years before he was born, but the story was still going around. Best on your book!

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