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The Simmons Voice

The Student News Site of Simmons University

The Simmons Voice

The Student News Site of Simmons University

The Simmons Voice

How to Celebrate the 105 Anniversary of the Great Molasses Flood of Boston

How do we commemorate the lives lost that fateful day?

January 15, 2024, marked the 105 anniversary of the Great Molasses Flood of 1919 in Boston’s North End. And you forgot the anniversary again (like a bad husband) you still have time to celebrate (and no, it doesn’t require buying overpriced flowers at Trader Joe’s)!

Molasses, the result of refining sugarcane, is a sugary substance used in baking and ethanol (industrial alcohol) production. In the early 1900s, it was cheaper than white sugar and is still used to make brown sugar today. But most of you might know molasses from its other work: rum!

So what is the great molasses flood of 1919? The Purity Distilling Company had a holding tank that was 50 feet high and held 2.5 million gallons of molasses to be refined for its ethanol to make ammunition in World War I. The tanker had some construction issues, including leaking molasses that the local community would scrape off and use as a sugar substitute. 

In an unusually warm January – when 40 degrees in January was unusual – they mixed in a new shipment of warm molasses with the cool molasses, and it created ethanol gas that blew the bolts so hard off of the tanker that locals thought it was gunshots. At 12:30 p.m. on January 15, 1919, millions of gallons of molasses rushed through Boston’s North End district, killing 21 people and injuring 119. It even took out part of Boston’s elevated train, a predecessor to the MBTA. (At least when the trains shut down back then it was for a good reason.) The 119 injured sued in one of the first class action lawsuits in the country. To this day, some residents of the North End say the area has a sweet scent on hot summer days.

How do we commemorate the lives lost that fateful day? How do we understand the full effect of this horrific act of negligence and corporate greed?

Pour one out for the lives lost.

Go to the site of the incident and pour out a jar of molasses for the lives lost that day. The current site is a baseball diamond and bocce court, so you can even play a round of bocce to honor the Italian heritage of the yard workers. Even better, you can go to one of the many Italian restaurants in the area and get a nice plate of spaghetti. 

Give yourself a molasses face mask!

Go to the store, buy some molasses, and pour it on your face. This will give you a similar sensation to those who drowned in molasses, and give you more empathy for those lost sugar-covered souls. 

Make molasses cookies!

Using this recipe from King Arthur Flour, you can make molasses cookies to commemorate the fallen without wasting any more of that sweet sugar syrup. These cookies are a quintessential New England treat, and this recipe even uses rum for a boozy treat! 

Even though the great molasses flood has been largely forgotten, we must as a society, never forget. It is a part of our history as Bostonites and sugar-lovers to remember the fallen, and continue in their legacy by using molasses, even if it has killed 21 people – so far…

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