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Lunch » Tags » Books » Reviews » Dark Tide: The Great Boston Molasses Flood of 1919 » User review

Engrossing account of the most bizarre disaster I have ever heard of.

  • Feb 9, 2010
Having lived less than 50 miles from Boston all of my life, I was startled to pick up this book and learn about the tragic events of January 15, 1919 I had never ever heard about this!!!   In "Dark Tide: The Great Boston Molasses Flood of 1919" author Stephen Puleo does a terrific job of reconstructing the events that led up to the collapse of the 50 foot high steel tank that held over two million gallons of all things--molasses.  When the dust had cleared 21 people lost their lives and scores more were injured.  The entire waterfront area adjacent to the tank was levelled.  A portion of the nearby overhead rail had collapsed.  Hundreds of family pets and dozens of police horses were lost.  Lives were changed forever.  We learn about the suffering of many of the victims in these pages.  Some of the descriptions of what happened that day are simply unimaginable.

Puleo paints a fascinating portrait of life in Boston in the late teens and early 1920's and details a number of the events that led up to this grim piece of Boston history.  He gives a history of the owner of the tank, the U.S. Industrial Alcohol Co.  You will most certainly not be impressed by the way this outfit conducted itself both in the years leading up to the tragedy and in the investigations and inquiry that followed.  I was interested to learn of the long history of the molasses trade in the Boston area.  And of course when blame for the tragedy was being assigned many pointed their fingers at radical Italian anarchists. Was there any truth in these accusations or were some just holding them up as convenient "patsies"?  When you stop and think about what happened on that frigid January day, just imagine what might have happened if the tank had collapsed on a summer day?  Imagine the additional health problems that would have been posed by insects and rodents at that time of the year.

Finally, Stephen Puleo devotes several chapters to the legal inquiry into this tragedy and to the three principal players. Prominent Boston attorney Charles Choate was engaged as defense lawyer for U.S. Industrial AlcoholDamon Hall presented the case for the plaintiffs.  And decorated World War I veteran Hugh Ogden was appointed by the Court to oversee the civil lawsuit.  See how the six weeks he expected to devote to this case turned into over three years!!!    I found "Dark Tide: The Great Boston Molasses Flood of 1919" very hard to put down and read it in just a couple of sittings.  Very highly recommended!!!
Engrossing account of the most bizarre disaster I have ever heard of. Engrossing account of the most bizarre disaster I have ever heard of. Engrossing account of the most bizarre disaster I have ever heard of. Engrossing account of the most bizarre disaster I have ever heard of.

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Paul Tognetti ()
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I guess I would qualify as a frustrated writer. My work requires very little writing and so since 1999 I have been writing reviews on non-fiction books and anthology CD's on amazon.com. I never could … more
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In this volume, Puleo, a contributor to American History magazine, sets out to determine whether the collapse of a molasses tank that sent a tidal wave of 2.3 million gallons of the sticky liquid through Boston's North End and killed 21 people was the work of Italian anarchists or due to negligence by the tank's owner, United States Industrial Alcohol. Getting into the minds of the major players in the disaster-USIA suits, victims, witnesses, North End residents, politicians-he re-creates not only the scene but also the social, political and economic environments of the time that made the disaster more than just an industrial accident. While the collapse's aftermath is tragic, the story itself is not exactly gripping. More interesting are the tidbits of Boston's and America's history, such as the importance of molasses to all U.S. war efforts up to and including WWI, which Puleo uses to put the tank collapse in the context of a very complex time in U.S. history. The most striking aspect of this tale is the timeliness of the topics it touches on. Describing Americans being persecuted because of their ethnicity, a sagging economy boosted by war, and terrorism on U.S. soil that results in anti-immigration laws and deportations, Puleo could just as easily be writing about current events as about events in 1919. Overall, this is another piece in the jigsaw puzzle that is Boston's long and rich history. Photos.
Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information, Inc.
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ISBN-10: 0807050202
ISBN-13: 978-0807050200
Author: Stephen Puleo
Genre: Industrial, Manufacturing & Operational Systems, Safety & Health
Publisher: Beacon Press
Date Published: September 2, 2003
Format: Hardcover
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