January 15: The Boston Molassacre

Boston MolassacreToday marks the 95th anniversary of one of history’s weirdest industrial accidents: The Boston Molasses Disaster, or as it is colloquially known “The Boston Molassacre.”

Around 12:30 on January 15, 1919 a 50 foot tall storage tank at the Purity Distilling Company collapsed. The tank contained a little over 2-million gallons of molasses, which quickly produced a 25 foot tall molasses wave, traveling through Boston’s North End neighborhood at roughly 35 miles per hour. The wave destroyed buildings, damaged a Boston Elevated Railway and even threw vehicles into the harbor. In total 21 people were killed, and 150 were injured.

By luck, the USS Nantucket was docked in Boston harbor that day, so the ship’s 116 cadets were the first responders to assist in clean up and rescue. The Army, Navy, Red Cross and Boston Police all soon joined in to help. In all, it took two weeks to clean up the spill and over 87,000 man-hours to rid the city of molasses. Boston Harbor would be brown with molasses well into the summer of 1919, and for decades after the molasses flood, North End residents would claim that on hot days, the neighborhood smelled of molasses.

So, to mark the anniversary of the molasses flood, we’ve got a drink made from molasses and rum (which is often made from molasses). The Black Strap is a warm cocktail from New England. Jerry Thomas included it in The Bar-Tender’s Guide, although he called it a Black Stripe. It’s a nice warm cocktail that’s perfect for mid-winter.

Black Strap/Black Stripe

  • 2 ounces Dark Rum
  • 1 tablespoon of molasses
  • 2 ounces hot water

Combine the molasses and hot water in a small tumbler, add the rum and stir. Garnish with grated nutmeg.

Tomorrow: Hail Augustus!


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