Jul 01

The Great Molasses Flood by Kathy Otten

S6302271Please welcome Kathy Otten back to my blog. She has an incredible story to tell us.

Great to be back, Anna.

I generally write historical novels. I enjoy the research that goes into bringing the reader into another time.  But while digging through old memoirs and newspapers for one bit of information, it’s easy to stumble onto other intriguing pieces of history that would be great to incorporate into another story sometime.

While doing research for my novella, Another Waltz, which takes place in Boston, I came across a news story from 1919 that eventually inspired my new short story, After the Dark.

January 15, 1919 was an unseasonably warm day. World War I had ended in August. The Spanish Influenza Pandemic that had swept the nation, killing thousands was ending and this warm day on the North End of Boston lifted everyone’s spirits.

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. The company first painted the tank brown then shortly before Christmas a workman on scaffolding caulked the seams.

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

On Wednesday the temperatures rose to forty degrees, drawing everyone outdoors and silently warming the molasses. Just after noon, the seams of the tank ruptured, spilling 2.3 million gallons of molasses in a 15 foot wave through Boston’s North End.

Traveling at thirty-five miles perhour, the wave of molasses slammed into people and buildings with 26,000,000 pounds of force. The supports of the elevated train were twisted, wooden homes flattened, the city livery and the North End paving yard were destroyed, and the brick fire station was knocked off its foundation as the second floor pancaked onto the first.

Twenty-one people were killed, and one hundred and fifty injured, some of which had lifelong disability as a result. 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.

A brief excerpt from After the DarkAftertheDark_w9694_300

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.


Kathy is the author of three historical novels and multiple novellas and short stories.  She is a workshop presenter and teaches fiction writing at an area adult  education center.  The mother of three grown children and one grandchild, she 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 four 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.

You can contact Kathy




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  1. Cynthia Woolf

    Very interesting blog. Thanks for the info.

  2. Kathy Otten

    Hi Cynthia,
    Thanks for stopping by. I love exploring unique bits of history.

  3. Melissa Keir

    How scary. It was so unexpected and probably had everyone in their sights. I can’t imagine the clean up after that disaster. All the best with your book!

  4. Kathy Otten

    Hi Melissa,
    The problem with clean up came when the molasses started to thicken up and harden. There was all kinds of debris stuck in it along with the dead horses and chickens from the slaughter house. Regular water did nothing when then tried to hose it down, so they had to use salt water from the bay.

    Urban legend says that you can still smell the molasses sometimes on warm summer days. Although my brother, who lives in Boston, said he’s never smelled it.

    Thanks for stopping by. 🙂

  5. Stanalei Fletcher

    Cool history lesson. Didn’t know that about Boston. Thanks for sharing.

    1. Kathy Otten

      Hi Stanalei,
      The whole event had another layer with the Italian anarchists because they had already blown up buildings and threatened more. It was just hard to incorporate everything into a short story.

      Thanks for taking the time to leave a comment. 🙂

  6. Linda

    That is a great historical tidbit (not the death and injury part), and the excerpt is tempting. What kind of alcohol do they make with molasses?

    1. Kathy Otten

      Hi Linda,

      The way I understand it, United States Industrial Alcohol was the parent company for Purity Distilling who put up the tank. Molasses was imported from, the West Indies, Cuba, and Puerto Rico. Ships unloaded it into the tank and it was later sent by rail car to the distilling plant in Cambridge. Some of the alcohol was used to make rum, but most of it was distilled into industrial alcohol and shipped to munitions manufacturers here and over seas during the war with Germany. It was used to make dynamite and other high explosives.

  7. Sylvie Grayson

    Hi Kathy,
    Fascinating story of the molasses wave. Amazing how much damage it caused. And is it that seductive young Miss who allowed it to happen by enticing the guard away from his duties?

    Great intro,
    Sylvia Grayson

    1. Kathy Otten

      Hi Sylvie,

      Thanks for stopping by. Yes, Liam was poleaxed by love from the very first day he met Rosalie. He just doesn’t believe he deserves to be happy.

  8. Angelina (Barbin) Jameson

    Great blog post. I had never heard the whole story of the Molasses Flood.

    1. Kathy Otten

      Hi Angelina,

      Glad you could stop by. I stumbled onto the story when I was doing research on police for another story. Then I saw the story on the History Channel and Stephen Puleo was one of the experts interviewed, and I bought his book, Dark Tide.

  9. Ilona Fridl

    Great post! I had heard of the disaster a long time ago. What a horrible thing to happen. Story looks good.

    1. Kathy Otten

      Hi Ilona,

      I think you’re one of the few people I’ve run across who have even heard of the disaster.

      Thanks for stopping by and taking the time to leave a comment. 🙂

  10. Debra Doggett

    What a great story!

    1. Kathy Otten

      Hi Debra,

      Thanks for stopping by. They say truth is stranger than fiction, and if I had written a story about a ruptured tank of molasses trapping two people in the rubble of a collapsed firehouse, no one would find it believable.

  11. Ashantay Peters

    Fascinating story. I’d been to the North End a number of times in the past and can visualize the catastrophe all too easily. Couldn’t help thinking about all the animals that perished, also. Thanks for the post.

  12. Kathy Otten

    Hi Ashantay,

    I’ve never been to the North End of Boston. Only East Boston and Fenway Park. Could you smell the molasses?

    Thanks for stopping by. 🙂

  13. Cheryl Williams

    Hope you’re having a good day, Kathy! Good luck with the new novel.

    1. Kathy Otten

      Hi Cheryl,

      Thanks so much for stopping by. I appreciate your good wishes. 🙂

  14. Kathy Otten

    Hi Anna,

    Thanks so much for having me as a guest on your blog. I appreciate all the warm wishes from everyone who stopped by.

    Thank You! 🙂

  15. Lilly Gayle

    I saw the molasses flood story on an episode of Mysteries at the Museum a while back. I love that show and have started taking notes when I watch. Who knows when inspiration will strike and I’ll have an idea for my next historical romance!

    Love the book cover and blurb, btw.

    1. Kathy Otten

      Hi Lilly,

      Thanks for stopping by. I’ve never seen Mysteries at the Museum. I’ll have to see if they have it on Net Flicks. I always tell myself I’m going to take notes when I watch stuff, but I never do. Hopefully all your diligent notes will pay off and your next book will explore some unique piece of history.

      Happy Writing. 🙂

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