What Was the Weirdest Disaster Ever?

May 5, 2013 in Trivia

Great Molasses Flood

The aftermath of Boston’s Great Molasses Flood in 1919. Source: “The Great Molasses Flood,” by Deborah Kops.

History is full of plans gone wrong and days turned disastrous. Here are a few that rank among top of the weirdest calamities in the last century.

Gillingham Park in Kent, England saw a fun civic service event go terribly south in 1929. Local fire brigade members used to put on a summer demonstration of their life-saving prowess by enacting a mock fire rescue.

Nine boys ages 10 to 14 would climb up to the third story of a house facade, made for the occasion, donning wedding costumes. Normally the team would create a smoke fire for effect. The firemen would use ropes and ladders to retrieve the boys, then the house would be lit on fire to demonstrate use of fire hoses.

Unfortunately, a real fire was already ablaze. Onlookers cheered and clapped not realizing the danger as firefighters struggled unsuccessfully to save the boys, who all perished. According to British website ThisIsKent, the people of the town grieve the losses of the event to this day.

San Francisco’s Thanksgiving Day game between the University of California and Stanford was immensely popular even at the start of the 1900s, but year 1900′s game turned from hearty anticipation to horror.

Although the game was sold out, fans who couldn’t get admission found plenty of space atop surrounding rooftops. Sadly, one of the buildings upon which fans crowded was a glass works factory with a roof that couldn’t take the weight. Both the roof and the crowd atop dropped 45 feet into a furnace of molten glass bubbling at 3,000 degrees Fahrenheit, according to reminiscences of SF Weekly, California Golden Blogs and others still recounting the event. Twenty-two died and more than 80 were injured that day.

Boston’s Molasses Disaster may trump these and all other disaster competitions for novelty. On Jan. 15, 1919, on a warm day for Winter in Boston, workers in the North End Park in were loading freight trains in the United States Industrial Alcohol Company building. Adjacent to the work area stood a large tank, over fifty feet high and close to ninety feet in diameter, filled with close to 2.5 million gallons of crude molasses being distilled into ethyl alcohol.

Just as workers were lunching, strains on the tank caused it to rupture. Bolts holding it intact shot out explosively and a fiery, hot wave of molasses about 15 feet high rushed onto the city streets at a speed as high as 35 miles per hour. The wave swept aside freight cars, knocked over the nearby firehouse, and killed 21 people and dozens of horses according to History.

Boston Harbor ran brown even through the summer that year. Reportedly it took six months to remove the molasses from Boston’s cobblestone streets.