Great Molasses Flood

colgoo's picture

Great Molasses Flood



Liner Notes: 

This is my contribution to the Week 9 challenge. Thank you! As a history nerd, I love writing ballads. The biggest challenge is figuring out what parts of the story to not put in the song!!!

Have you ever heard someone say, "You're slower than molasses in January!" to someone dragging their feet? This is a good, true story to share with them.

On January 15, 1919, around 12:30 p.m.:

***Crash, thunderous bang, like the sound you'd hear from an elevated train rolling by
Machine gun sounds as rivets shoot out from a giant molasses tank (50 ft. tall and 90 ft. in diameter)***

The tank collapses, bursting open, creating a deadly 25 foot wave of molasses that fills several nearby streets with 2-3 feet of sticky, gooey molasses. Several horses, pulling wagons in the street, were buried and killed along with six drivers and one messenger working near the facility. Six workers at the neighboring paving yard are buried and suffocating, unable to move out of the way. Two children coming home from school were killed. In the initial blast, the high wave hits the girders of the nearby train. The train foreman is killed and one of the railroad cars is tipped off the tracks momentarily, injuring passengers. Neighboring buildings are swept from their foundations and crushed. A homemaker and her adult son die, as well as a firefighter rushing to the scene. 150 men, women and children are injured with burns, bumps and bruises.

As one witness described it, "Horses died like so many flies on sticky fly-paper." Dogs and cats were also swept up and smothered.

The Purity Distilling Company was found guilty of not repairing faulty equipment and sued for damages. It was one of the first food industry accidents that pushed for reforms in engineering and equipment inspections.


1. On a hot summer's day in the North End of Boston
You can smell the molasses seeping through the streets.
Ninety-nine years ago, about two million gallons
of hot, sticky, sugar caused a tragedy.

Out of the way! Out of the way! A twenty-five foot wave
Poured down on workers at the North End Paving Yard
Out of the way! Out of the way! Thirty-five miles per hour!
Suffocating drivers, horses and dogs.

2. Anthony and Maria were walking home from school
When they were trapped and choked by the dark brown, sticky goo.
Anthony passed out, and when he was awakened
He learned one of his four sisters was taken!

3. There was lots of blame to go around for the explosion:
A leaky tank, warmer weather, the start of Prohibition.
Twenty-one lives were lost; 150 injured.
It took four days to search the flood for survivors.

4. Today, the site is a baseball park where local children play
And part of it's the subway called the MBTA.
The Purity Distilling Company went defunct
For faulty engineering that they flunked!!!

Final chorus:
Now today, yes, today, a century later
You'll still hear the story of the Great Molasses Flood.
And on a hot, summer's day, as you walk the streets of Boston,
You may still smell the sweetness that's soaked in the mud.

Please keep your comments respectful, honest, and constructive. Please focus on the song and not the demo.


cindyrella's picture

My husband and I were just reading about this! Sometimes with real events it is hard, as you say, to decide what goes into it. You have done this so clearly and such perfect music and vocals. Bravo!

billwhite51's picture

excellent writing, both for the lyrics and music. I love the way you begin in the present day with the smell of the molasses still reeking through the pavement on a hot day. the cry Out of the Way is strengthened by your shifting of vocal registers for the chorus. i imagine it would be very difficult to write a story like this in only a few verses, and you have done an exceptionl job. Bravo!

Technicolor Gramophone's picture

I had actually heard of this story. Great storytelling, particularly the use of "Anthony and Maria," which really personalizes/humanizes the tragedy. Excellent close with "You may still smell the sweetness that's soaked in the mud." Beautiful vocals, as always!

writeandwrong's picture

Wow, grew up in Maine and never heard of this story. 2-3 feet of it;, 40-foot wave?? My parents used to tap trees and make homemade syrup when I was growing up. Doing that in our home, even with the windows open, the air was thick and sticky sweet, so sweet it was sickening. I cannot imagine 2-3 feet of syrup flooding everywhere. What a story and you told it so well. I had to look it up when I saw the title and before I read/listened t your tune. Great write!

colgoo's picture

Actually, the peak was about 25 feet tall, but imagine that rushing at you, still hot from the storage tank!

kahlo2013's picture

What an incredible story! Such a tragic situation. Your story is so richly described with great details. It is riveting! And your delivery as always is superb! What an amazing write!

OdilonGreen's picture

A vibrant retelling of a fascinating story; the chorus is very catchy indeed, and would work great live (I can "hear" the audience singing along), while the verses are filled with little details that really bring home that this is a true story. Very much enjoyed!