The Great Molasses Flood: Boston, 1919

Overview

A strange and sticky piece of history. January 15, 1919, started off as a normal day in Boston’s North End. Workers took a break for lunch, children played in the park, trains made trips between North and South Stations. Then all of a sudden a large tank of molasses exploded, sending shards of metal hundreds of feet away, collapsing buildings, and coating the harborfront community with a thick layer of sticky-sweet sludge. Deborah Kops takes the reader through this bizarre and relatively unknown disaster, ...
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Overview

A strange and sticky piece of history. January 15, 1919, started off as a normal day in Boston’s North End. Workers took a break for lunch, children played in the park, trains made trips between North and South Stations. Then all of a sudden a large tank of molasses exploded, sending shards of metal hundreds of feet away, collapsing buildings, and coating the harborfront community with a thick layer of sticky-sweet sludge. Deborah Kops takes the reader through this bizarre and relatively unknown disaster, including the cleanup and court proceedings that followed. What happened? Why did the tank explode? Many people died or were injured in the accident—who was to blame? Kops focuses on several individuals involved in the events of that day, creating a more personal look at this terrible tragedy.
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Editorial Reviews

Children's Literature - Leigh Geiger
In January 1919, a molasses tank in Boston's North end exploded, spewing more than two million gallons of the thick, hot liquid all over the streets, buildings and people. There is so much promise in this historical nonfiction presentation of a horrific but fascinating event. Kops personalizes the story, bringing us into the lives of families, train workers, firemen, policemen and school children at work and at play, just a few hours before the explosion. She does an excellent job of describing the horror and magnitude of the disaster with fascinating images, noting for example that, "sticking up out of the liquid was a limp hand." There are more than enough monochromatic images—period photos, maps and newspaper replications—to illustrate the melee. However, Kops is never able to achieve the intended effect. We understand the extent of the disaster but are confused by the constant barrage of characters and their individual views of the disaster. Threads of their lives are introduced, interrupted by other situations and then abruptly re-introduced. This disjointed, although chronological approach dilutes the personal connection readers might otherwise feel to the event. As an historical reference, however, the book succeeds in thoroughly describing the event and in providing additional background information that puts this disaster in context. We learn not only about the rescue attempts and the years of legal battles over who was at fault, but also through sidebars and additional material about a local politician, John F. Fitzgerald, whose grandson JFK, became a U.S. president, about the anarchists who were originally blamed for the molasses spill, about the technology of changing molasses into rum, the growing Prohibition movement and the Suffrage movement. Reviewer: Leigh Geiger, Ph.D.
School Library Journal
Gr 6–8—On January 15, 1919, a two-million-gallon holding tank filled with molasses exploded, flooding Boston's North End near the port. In all, 21 people died in the disaster, and around 50 were injured. The sticky flood swamped the area, and cleanup proved difficult until it was discovered that seawater seemed to break it up. At that point, the judicious use of a fire boat aided the effort. Even though all the molasses was eventually gone, the smell persisted until 1995. This briskly paced recounting of the disaster focuses on the human element—the people involved, their lives disrupted and never the same thereafter. Covering not only the Molasses Flood, but the impact of Prohibition on businesses and the anarchist movement, the engaging narrative paints a very different picture of the Roaring Twenties than is typical. Of special interest, given the current national obsession with terrorism, is the number of deadly explosions set off by anarchists along the Eastern seaboard between 1919 and 1923. In a satisfying conclusion, the auditor pointed his finger firmly at the United States Industrial Alcohol Company, the owners of the tank, claiming that the company had done a poor job of building the tank and that it could withstand neither the weight of the molasses nor the pressure of the gas from fermentation. While this is an excellent study of the problems of unregulated industry, readership is nonetheless problematic. While there may be social-studies tie-ins, options for selling the title seem few. A fine, if slightly obscure, addition on a topic not previously covered in book form for this age range.—Ann Welton, Helen B. Stafford Elementary, Tacoma, WA
Kirkus Reviews
Imagine a 40-foot wall of molasses turning a harborside neighborhood upside down. It was a hopeful time in Boston. The worst of the Spanish influenza was over, World War I had just ended and Babe Ruth had helped the Red Sox win the World Series the previous fall. But on January 15, 1919, in Boston's North End, on a sunny, warm day, the molasses tank in the neighborhood blew. More than 2,300,000 gallons of molasses, weighing 13,000 tons, flowed down the street, uplifting houses, twisting railroad tracks and killing 21 people. Fallen elevated train tracks, dead horses, collapsed buildings and crushed cars made the areas look as though a tornado had come through. The smell of molasses in the neighborhood didn't fade until 1995, though the memory of the event has. Using firsthand testimony from the 40-volume transcript from Dorr v. U.S. Industrial Alcohol, the hearings that followed the event, Kops has done a fine job of resurrecting the story and recreating the day through third-person stories of the actual players. Had she retained some of the first-person accounts, she may have lent her narrative greater immediacy, but it is nevertheless an intriguing read. A useful map, abundant archival photographs and sidebars offering historical context complement the lively prose. A fascinating account of a truly bizarre disaster. (index) (Nonfiction. 9-12)
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9781580893480
  • Publisher: Charlesbridge Publishing, Inc.
  • Publication date: 2/1/2012
  • Pages: 112
  • Age range: 9 - 12 Years
  • Lexile: 900L (what's this?)
  • Product dimensions: 7.60 (w) x 10.10 (h) x 0.70 (d)

Meet the Author

Deborah Kops is the author of more than a dozen nonfiction children’s books, including ZACHARY TAYLOR: AMERICA'S 12TH PRESIDENT, SCHOLASTIC KID'S ALMANAC, and her Wild Birds of Prey series. She lives in Westford, Massachusetts.
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Table of Contents

Cast of Characters vi

Prologue viii

Chapter 1 Lunchtime Near the Harbor 1

Chapter 2 A Terrible Wave 13

Chapter 3 Hundreds to the Rescue 25

Chapter 4 Who Is to Blame? 45

Chapter 5 A Flood of Stories 69

Chapter 6 A Real or Mythical Bomber? 87

Acknowledgments 99

Photo Credits 100

Index 101

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Sort by: Showing all of 2 Customer Reviews
  • Posted April 7, 2012

    Fantastic story of the Boston molassess flood. Loved the individ

    Fantastic story of the Boston molassess flood. Loved the individual stories of the people affected by the disaster. Very readable for kids and adults.

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  • Posted April 2, 2012

    Strange But True

    Boston's Great Molasses Flood of 1919 has got to be one of the most bizarre disasters ever, and Kops's book makes great use of detailed personal stories to bring the dramatic, traumatic event to life. During WWI, molasses was used to make ammunition. Following the war, the sweet, sticky stuff was used to make rum. And that's why more than 2 million gallons of molasses was being stored in a large tank in Boston's North End. This book describes what happens when the tank broke open and the aftermath, including the clean up proces and the courtcase to determine who was at fault. By deftly painting a picture of the era, Kops explains how current events of the time affected the outcome of the trial. A good addition to library collections.

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