Tuesday, May 8, 2012

The Great Molasses Flood

by Deborah Kops
Charlesbridge Publishing | Feb 1, 2012

Finally, a proper book about the Boston Great Molasses Flood for young people! I've been waiting for this for years - since I discovered the only book for adults about this amazing disaster, Dark Tide, by Stephen Puleo. Up until now, there's only been a few books for kids that deal with this subject, all travesties in different ways from false portrayal to egregiously misconstruing it as a jovial event in the folklore of Boston.

The molasses flood happened in January 1919, after a tank built by USIA literally burst at the seams. Molasses was brought from the Caribbean to Boston and then boiled down into industrial alcohol and used to make ammunition for the war. USIA was in a hurry to build the tank and didn't properly inspect it. It was built in the North End of Boston, which was filled with Italian immigrants who didn't complain too much when the 50-foot tall massive, ugly tank was constructed in their densely populated neighborhood.

The destruction caused by a 30-foot wave of molasses flowing down the street was astronomical. It took out the elevated train tracks and destroyed buildings and houses. Twenty-one people died and countless others were injured. The civil case against USIA lasted for 6 years.

Kops has done a brilliant job boiling down (pun intended) a very complicated story for young readers. She has paid careful attention to ensuring details are true and accurate. The book design is lovely - with rich brown tones and sepia historical photographs reminiscent of the sticky brown liquid that caused so much trouble. Kops introduces people into the story both to humanize it and to keep readers interested as they go through the minute details of what happened that day and the weeks and months and years that followed.  Occasional sidebars offer other peripheral information - one about John F. Fitzgerald, Rose Kennedy's father and mayor of Boston at the time, one about anarchists in the U.S. during that period, and more. Back matter includes a photo of the small plaque that marks the site today, photo credits, and an index, and although a bibliography is absent, an acknowledgement page indicates the major sources Kops used in her research.

Many who know me know I love me a good disaster story and I've been semi-obsessed with the Molasses Flood for years. Finally, young readers can learn about this bizarre incident that changed Boston and some laws in the rest of the U.S. Read it as a family - it will amaze everyone of every age.

Caption in the book under this photo reads: A section of the molasses tank and other debris. Men wore boots to protect their feet from the sticky goo. Photo courtesy of the Boston Public Library, Leslie Jones Collection.

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