The Great Boston Molasses Flood of 1919

I was walking Olivia to school last year when I found myself explaining income taxes. I knew she was eight at the time, but I still figured that information might come in handy one day. I also figured the window on her listening to me for long periods of time was closing. So now was my chance to drone on. She was kicking leaves and half-paying attention.

If you tax people, you have to let them vote on things. There was a famous historical event about that.

She stared blankly at me.

During the American Revolution. In Boston?

Blank stare.

The Boston…something.

Then, almost in one breath, she shouted.

The Great Boston Molasses Flood of 1919!

I began laughing so hard that I fell to one knee. I had never heard of the Boston Molasses Flood of 1919. In that moment, I thought she had made it up. It was such a detailed answer that it slapped me across the face from left field. It took my ears a second to process what she had even said.

I tried to compose myself as I knelt down on the side of the street. She was now in equal hysterics.

Did you make that up?

Ha ha. No. We learned it in school. It’s a thing.

So I Googled it and, yup. It’s a thing. In fact, it was a pretty serious thing and, despite being humorous in the moment because it was said unexpectedly, there’s nothing funny about the actual tragedy itself. Basically, a company transporting molasses filled a tanker past capacity and it caused an explosion that flooded a neighborhood, killing 21 people. It was shocking and, until Olivia said it, I had never heard of it.

Of course, we’re glossing over the fact that no one had taught this kid about the Boston Tea Party yet, but that’s beside the point. Taxation without representation aside, I was pretty impressed with her knowledge of obscure and interesting historical events.

In the weeks that followed, the Boston Molasses Flood of 1919 became a topic in our house. We watched Youtube videos describing it and tried to learn all we could. We were becoming experts. When people who never heard of it would come by, Olivia and I would go into incredible detail.

You never heard of the Boston Molasses Flood of 1919? Want us to tell you about it?

I’d watch her eyes light up as she jumped in with a fact I may have missed.

They filled the tank so much that people could hear it creaking!

Then, around Christmas, we decided to go on a road trip to Boston. The kids had never been there and it was within driving distance, so we started to make our plans. I asked Olivia to think of some things she might want to do there. Almost immediately and with the same one-breath delivery used when she first told me about the flood, she blurted out:

The Great Boston Molasses Flood of 1919 Memorial!

Wow. Was there one? She said it with such certainty. So I asked.

Is there really a Great Boston Molasses Flood of 1919 Memorial?

I’ll never forget her reply. She shrugged her shoulders and said.

There’s gotta be.

So once again, I turned to Google and once again it was there. An unassuming green plaque at the entry to a park. It looked like every plaque in every park, but it was like the Holy Grail for us. We made it our goal to go there.

And so we did.


There’s not much to say about our actual visit. It was more of a, “There it is. Let’s hop out of the car and take a picture” thing. The entire event took less than ten minutes and was book-ended by debates about where to eat breakfast, but it wasn’t about the event itself. It was about the fact that we did it.

I kept marveling at how we made our goal happen. I wanted to drive that point home to Olivia. It was something I reminded her of and framed the whole experience as a life lesson in addition to being a historic one. As we all drove off from the site, I made it seem like we had just climbed Mount Everest.

Hey, everybody. I’m proud of us. You, me, Mommy, Lucas – we’ve been talking about it for a year and now we saw it. We made it to the Great Boston Molasses Flood of 1919 Memorial!

A four hour car ride wasn’t the biggest conquest of our lives, but Olivia didn’t know that. I could see in her face that she was pretty proud. It might not have been Everest, but to her, it was.

The most amazing thing is how easily it all could have never happened. Had I just brushed her reply aside like an arrogant grown-up and began lecturing her about the Boston Tea Party, chances are she would have listened, nodded, and then moved on. That didn’t happen.

Don’t misread that statement either. I’m not saying that I’m such an amazing parent that I would never do that. It’s the opposite actually. There’s actually a very good chance that I could have done that. That’s what’s so great about it.

In an effort to fill her head with knowledge, there are plenty of times I can drone on to my daughter’s dead ears. That day could have been one of them. After all, the whole story started with me lecturing about income tax while my disinterested third grader kicked leaves down the road.

Luckily it wasn’t. We grabbed that one passing moment and turned it into a lasting memory. Sometimes that’s all it takes.