Image: Wikipedia, unattributed
How fast does molasses really move in January? It has been reported to travel at speeds of up to 35 mph, although that was under about the most unusual circumstances imaginable.
On this day in 1919 (from the day of publishing, at least), argueably the strangest man-made disaster ever happened in Boston when a 50 foot, 2.3 million gallon tank of molasses collapsed. This created a wave of sugary destruction up to 15 feet-high, travelling at the breakneck speed (for molasses) of 35 mph and what must surely be one of the hardest clean-up efforts of a non-inherently lethal substance in recent history.
This is the part where it would be nice to say that it happened in the middle of an industrial district after hours and was caused by some freak accident nobody could have forseen. Too bad the aftermath was nowhere near as delicious as the story itself. Twenty-one people were killed and 150 injured. Part of the affected area was residential, and two of the dead were children. The exact cause is uncertain, but the extreme negligence/incompotence of the builder probably was a factor. It was so badly constructed they actually painted the tank brown to hide the excessive leaking.
The timing of this anniversary seems strangely relevant, as Tennesee and Alabama continue to assess and clean-up after a pair of man-made spills in their states. Though there were no immediate reports of human deaths in the more recent cases, their effects - both on us and our environment - will almost certainly be more far-reaching.