Saturday, December 5, 2020

Sweet Fancy Moses



We're winding down on this weird-ass year. I've got December 31 penciled in for the big earthquake and have some peanut butter on hand, but beyond that I will remain, as always, unprepared. The future is famously opaque, and I plan for it mostly by not speculating. Whenever disaster hits, I can comfort myself by realizing I didn't waste all those uneventful years worrying. "Make friends with prepared people"--that's my motto.

Because you never know. Folks in Boston woke up on January 15, 1919 and fretted about the flu pandemic and groused about wearing masks like they had been for months, but never once thought about what they'd do if they were overtaken by a 25-foot wave of molasses.

Nevertheless a storage tank, fifty feet tall and containing 13,000 tons of molasses, burst all at once and sent a river of goo through the North End at a rate of 35 mph, and no one's outrunning that sucker. (To compare, the great floods of molten basalt that formed much of Oregon could readily be outrun by anyone able to trot six mph for three days and nights in a row, but for the most part resulted in little human injury due to us having not been invented yet.)

People nearby reported hearing machine-gun sounds and were justifiably concerned, but it was only all the rivets shooting out of the exploding tank, which isn't much safer a proposition, bystander-wise. The flood tipped over a streetcar and knocked buildings off their foundations. Best you could do if you found yourself in its path was duck behind a flour silo and hope for cookies. As it was, twenty-one people perished outright, and as the flood cooled and thickened, there was no possibility for rescue. Victims had to be chipped out and bagged for resale. Those North End Italian boys really put the snap in gingersnap!
 
Strictly speaking, the Molasses Flood of 1919 was predictable in retrospect, which is the least useful sort of prediction. The steel in the silo failed to meet even the lax standards of the time; rivets were flawed; testing was neglected. Hints that trouble might be in the offing, such as a deep groaning sound whenever the tank was filled, were ignored. It leaked so badly it was painted brown for camouflage.

There was, additionally, some rumor that the tank had been overfilled in anticipation of the passage of the 18th Amendment, a.k.a. Prohibition, in order to maximize the availability of rum. The Amendment was indeed passed the very next day, but the U.S. Industrial Alcohol Company insisted it was distilling molasses not for rum but for industrial and military purposes, and there was no law against war.

Nevertheless, citizens brought a class-action suit against the owners of the tank; for its part, the company blamed the explosion on anarchists.*

Basically, the disaster was a result of naked, unrestrained capitalism. There was nothing good to be said about it, except that the area smelled like cookies literally for decades, and once again the world was able to observe that we are all the same under the skin, once we're glazed with sugar.

*not kidding


41 comments:

  1. And that Molasses Flood of 1919 has served as an object lesson in engineering classes ever since (along with the Comet Jet airplane). We covered the Molasses Flood in Mechanics of Materials as I recall.

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    1. You're going to make me look up the Comet Jet.

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    2. Long story, short: "...two accidents in 1954 grounded the Comet fleet and the subsequent investigation has ensured that the deHavilland Comet disaster remains a notorious example of metal fatigue failure."

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    3. Along with the Tacoma Narrows bridge.

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  2. Very funny and something I did not know. Now I am thinking of making molasses cookies.

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  3. So in other words... don't put all my worry eggs in that pandemic basket, because hostile aliens are currently in our solar system deciding whether to visit Mars or "the blue one" we call Earth...

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    1. At least those aliens aren't as scary as those hordes coming across the southern border disguised as desperate women and children.

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    2. No, not ALL. Some are murderers.

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  4. The more things change...
    It seems that we really are a slow learning species. And greed and capitalism are an ugly mixture.

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    1. Yeah. I'm fine with a market economy with a LOT of regulation and all costs accounted for.

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  5. So, in other words... it isn't the things we WORRY about in our frequent bouts of insomnia that we NEED to worry about. It's the things that go under our radar. Thanks. That helps my sleep problems SO much.

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    1. Here's another one: ovarian cancer has no symptoms. You have any symptoms?

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  6. You really should consider a second career as a guest history lecturer for otherwise bored out of their minds high schoolers.

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    1. Honestly, I think I would have had a blast as a teacher, and it never once occurred to me as a possibility.

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  7. I could have gained weight from breathing those cookie vapors. Sounds like a little slice of heaven to me.

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    1. I would love to have seen it from a distance. I can't think rum. I always think cookies.

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  8. My two younger kids live in an area that has two bakeries fairly close by, so they smell biscuits (cookies) or savoury pastries almost every day depending on which way the wind is blowing. I'd never heard of the molasses disaster until now.

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    1. We live around the corner from a donut bakery and a coffee roaster. I can gain wait before I even get out of bed.

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    2. There used to be a bakery along the highway (at the edge of Wichita) that greeted our quivering nostrils during our frequent trips to Wichita. That delicious fragrance has been missing for about 40-50 years, now, more's the pity.

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    1. Hot molasses (such as was in the tank) is not slow. The whole saying is "As slow as molasses in January" since, historically, January has been a cold month in the northern hemisphere.

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    2. Which reminds me, irrelevantly, that "happy as a clam" is short for "happy as a clam at high tide."

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  10. Thanks for the reminder that I should stock up on peanut butter. Yes, it is difficult to determine what would be worse...being caught in 2020 rioting or drowning in Molasses.

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    1. I think you're better off with the rioting, which for the most part has not been real rioty. And you can never go wrong with peanut butter.

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  11. تعتبر شركة الدرع المثالي من افضل شركات الخدمات فى المملكة العربية السعودية حيث تقدم الشركة العديد من الخدمات مثل كونها افضل شركة تنظيف بالرياض خدمة التنظيف تعتبر من افضل خدمات التى يحتاجها المواطن السعودي فى الفترة الحالية بسبب انتشار فيروس كورونا لذلك الشركة تقدم خدمة التنظيف فى مناطق متعددة مثل شركة تنظيف بالقصيم وايضا تقدم خدمة التنظيف فى شركة تنظيف بالدمام بالاضافة الى شركة تنظيف بجدة خدمة التنظيف تاتي مع التعقيم ولكن فى الفترة الاخير بدءت شركة الدرع المثالي فى تقديم خدمات تعقيم وبالاخص ضد فيروس كورونا فى مناطق متعددة مثل شركة تعقيم بالرياض وايضا شركة تعقيم بالقصيم وفى كلا من شركة تعقيم بالدمام و شركة تعقيم بجدة ومن الخدمات الذهبية التى تقدمها الشركة هي خدمة غسيل سيارات متنقل تعتبر من اكثر الخدمات التى يحتاجها كل مواطن لكثرة استخدام السيارات الخاصة فى التنقل وعدم استخدام المواصلات العامة .

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  12. شركة تنظيف منازل بالرياض بأفضل المنظفات والمطهرات وارخص الاسعار مقابل شركات التنظيف الأخرى خصم على جميع خدمات شركة تنظيف منازل بالرياض خدمات الشركة
    شركة تنظيف شقق بالرياض
    شركة تنظيف خزانات بالرياض
    شركة تنظيف كنب بالرياض
    شركة تنظيف منازل بالرياض
    شركة تنظيف بالرياض
    شركة تنظيف منازل بالرياض
    شركة تنظيف سجاد بالرياض

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