Historical Travel and Molasses

I’ve just launched a new beat at The Faster Times, for their Faster Travel section, called Historical Travel. The working tag-line is “far-flung destination chronicles and the Delphic past.” Historical narratives will be posted, along with original stories and columns by me on a range of travel subjects, all from the angle of history, ideally the strange and less-known cultural or social variety. I ought to say outright that the wonderful Atlas Obscura has already set a foundation for web coverage of what they dub “A Compendium of the World’s Wonders, Curiosities and Esoterica.” Historical Travel will not aspire to that, but be more grounded in history while keeping an eye on the marvelous, revealing, ambiguous, Delphic past as a way to cover travel and travel writing. Please visit!

My inaugural post is on the 1919 Molasses Disaster (or Flood, or Explosion) that rocked my home town of Boston. It begins:

A wave of molasses, bursting from an exploded steel tank at thirty-five miles per hour, smothered two city blocks in Boston’s North End on a warm January in 1919. The strange disaster killed twenty-one and injured 150; an elevated train track buckled, a train derailed, buildings collapsed and a truck flew into Boston Harbor.

Molasses, the sweetener of the day and a prime ingredient for rum and industrial alcohol, was stored in a massive but shoddily made tank on the waterfront of one of the Boston’s most crowded and impoverished immigrant neighborhoods. Built by the Purity Distilling Company, it apparently leaked so much that its owners painted it brown to mask the drip of molasses, which local residents collected and used in their tenements.

More here.


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