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The Great Molasses Flood: Boston, 1919
The Great Molasses Flood: Boston, 1919
By author: Deborah Kops
Product Code: 
Binding Information: Hardback 
9  - 12
In Stock
Price: $19.95
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"I've always felt that cinematic narrative driven by compelling, well-drawn characters were musts to engage young readers in historical nonfiction--Deborah Kops has achieved both in this story that is very close to my heart!" --Stephen Puleo, author of Dark Tide: The Great Boston Molasses Flood of 1919

A strange and sticky piece of history.

January 15, 1919, started off as a normal day in Boston’s North End. Workers took a break for lunch, children played in the park, trains made trips between North and South Stations. Then all of a sudden a large tank of molasses exploded, sending shards of metal hundreds of feet away, collapsing buildings, and coating the harborfront community with a thick layer of sticky-sweet sludge.

Deborah Kops takes the reader through this bizarre and relatively unknown disaster, including the cleanup and court proceedings that followed. What happened? Why did the tank explode? Many people died or were injured in the accident—who was to blame? Kops focuses on several individuals involved in the events of that day, creating a more personal look at this terrible tragedy.

Sidebars offer more information on Prohibition, World War I, women’s rights, and other issues of the time for a well-rounded depiction of this period of American history. An index and cast of characters for quick reference are also included.

This book is good for your brain because:
Non-fiction, primary sources, American history, document support, government

Download the Discussion & Activity Guide.

Download the cover image.

Listen to an interview with Deborah Kops on NPR's Here and Now with Sacha Pfeiffer.

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  • Also Available As:
    Binding Information: Paperback 
    ISBN: 978-1-58089-349-7
    Availability: In Stock
    Price: $11.95

      Kirkus Reviews - December 15, 2011
    Imagine a 40-foot wall of molasses turning a harborside neighborhood upside down.

    It was a hopeful time in Boston. The worst of the Spanish influenza was over, World War I had just ended and Babe Ruth had helped the Red Sox win the World Series the previous fall. But on January 15, 1919, in Boston's North End, on a sunny, warm day, the molasses tank in the neighborhood blew. More than 2,300,000 gallons of molasses, weighing 13,000 tons, flowed down the street, uplifting houses, twisting railroad tracks and killing 21 people. Fallen elevated train tracks, dead horses, collapsed buildings and crushed cars made the areas look as though a tornado had come through. The smell of molasses in the neighborhood didn't fade until 1995, though the memory of the event has. Using firsthand testimony from the 40-volume transcript from Dorr v. U.S. Industrial Alcohol, the hearings that followed the event, Kops has done a fine job of resurrecting the story and recreating the day through third-person stories of the actual players. Had she retained some of the first-person accounts, she may have lent her narrative greater immediacy, but it is nevertheless an intriguing read. A useful map, abundant archival photographs and sidebars offering historical context complement the lively prose.

    A fascinating account of a truly bizarre disaster.

      Booklist - December 15, 2011
    This book chronicles the catastrophic events resulting from the collapse of a large tank containing molasses in the North End neighborhood of Boston in 1919. The straightforward account centers on workers and area residents who either perished in the flood or miraculously survived. Those involved in the lengthy court case that followed also figure prominently in the narrative. Background information about the neighborhood, as well as the political activity that led to some of the speculations about the cause of the calamity, is expanded in numerous lengthy sidebars. A select number of well-placed archival photographs show the damage caused by the surge with the cleanup and rescue crews sloshing around in the aftermath. The combination of the sepia-toned photographs, the use of brown to highlight the chapter headings, and the choice of cream-colored paper gives this book a rich, elegant quality while staying consistent with the subject matter. Fictionalized accounts of the molasses flood can be found in Joan Hiatt Harlow's Joshua's Song (2001) and Blair Lent's picture book Molasses Flood (1992).
      School Library Journal - February 1, 2012
    On January 15, 1919, a two-million-gallon holding tank filled with molasses exploded, flooding Boston's North End near the port. In all, 21 people died in the disaster, and around 50 were injured. The sticky flood swamped the area, and cleanup proved difficult until it was discovered that seawater seemed to break it up. At that point, the judicious use of a fire boat aided the effort. Even though all the molasses was eventually gone, the smell persisted until 1995. This briskly paced recounting of the disaster focuses on the human element--the people involved, their lives disrupted and never the same thereafter. Covering not only the Molasses Flood, but the impact of Prohibition on businesses and the anarchist movement, the engaging narrative paints a very different picture of the Roaring Twenties than is typical. Of special interest, given the current national obsession with terrorism, is the number of deadly explosions set off by anarchists along the Eastern seaboard between 1919 and 1923. In a satisfying conclusion, the auditor pointed his finger firmly at the United States Industrial Alcohol Company, the owners of the tank, claiming that the company had done a poor job of building the tank and that it could withstand neither the weight of the molasses nor the pressure of the gas from fermentation. While this is an excellent study of the problems of unregulated industry, readership is nonetheless problematic. While there may be social-studies tie-ins, options for selling the title seem few. A fine, if slightly obscure, addition on a topic not previously covered in book form for this age range.
    Even Kops admits, "It sounds like a bad joke"--a deadly turn by the stuff of gingerbread cookies smacks of Second City shtick rather than historical fact. However, on January 15, 1919, an industrial storage tank filled with the sweet, sticky goo burst open and a wave of molasses swept Boston buildings off their foundation, drowned workers and children in the immediate area, trapped others under debris, and ultimately claimed twenty-one lives. In this accessible account, Kops first introduces the characters whose lives would be altered by this disaster, then describes the flood, the rescue efforts, theories on the cause of the flood, the three years of court hearings, and the final determination of liability. Relatively short sentences, slightly oversized font, and wide leading, chapter subheadings, and ample illustrations make this a strong choice for reluctant or struggling readers. Streamlined presentation does not, however, imply simplified content. Indeed Kops handily guides readers through a thoughtful discussion of how the fear of anarchist activity following World War I led to many to believe that the tank was bombed, a view steadily held by the tank owners, the U.S. Industrial Alcohol Company, who sought to avoid liability for death and damages. Photo credits and an index are included, and although Kops mentions several important sources in her acknowledgments, notes are not included.
      Library Media Connection - November 15, 2012
    Deborah Kops tells the story of Boston's Great Molasses Flood of 1919 in this account of a lesser-known event. Part chronology and part biography, this exciting piece of nonfiction brings together the people affected and the timeline of events leading up to the disaster, disaster management, and the communal, legal, and political aftermath. A massive tank of molasses burst and flooded the city with a giant wave of sticky goo. The greater story explains the devastation the flood caused, from twisting steel to moving entire homes to death from drowning and suffocation, leaving the reader engaged in the story of human suffering, resilience, and recovery. The author presents different perspectives of responsibility for this disaster, including conspiracy theories, legal arguments, and stories from contemporary Bostonians. The account was compiled from primary source documents, including reproductions of historical photographs and transcripts from the molasses flood hearings. Glossary. Table of Contents. Index.