May 31, 1889 Johnstown Flood

Traveling at 40 miles per hour, the 60′ wall of water and debris hit Johnstown 57 minutes after the dam broke. Some residents had managed to scramble to high ground, but most were caught by surprise

Johnstown Pennsylvania was founded in 1800, along the banks of the Stony Creek and the Little Conemaugh, where the two waterways combine to form the Conemaugh River. Miles downstream from the drainage basin formed by the Allegheny plateau, the town is hemmed in on both sides by the high, steep hills of the Conemaugh Valley and the Allegheny Mountains. A plaque at the scenic overlook on Rt. 56, four miles outside of Johnstown, describes this gorge as the deepest river gap east of the Rockies.Johnstown Spillway_drawing

The South Fork Dam was built 14 miles upstream by the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, forming Lake Conemaugh and providing a feeder for the state’s network of canals. Welsh and German immigrants came to the area as the completion of the Main Line Canal led to the construction of the Pennsylvania Railroad and the Cambria Iron Works. The area flourished as multiple villages and factories were built along the banks of the Conemaugh, crowding the river basin forming the narrow floor of the valley.

The Commonwealth sold the dam and the lake to private interests when rail began to supersede the canal as the primary mode of transport. The property changed hands a couple times more: one owner removing the three iron pipes that formed a spillway and selling them for scrap, the next lowering the dam to build a road and installing a fish grate. These were the wealthy industrialists who turned the mountain lake into an exclusive private retreat for themselves and their families, calling it the South Fork Fishing and Hunting Club.

Johnstown Flood National Memorial
Johnstown Flood National Memorial

The rain that began to fall on the 29th was unprecedented, at times falling at the rate of 6 to 10 inches per hour. Elias Unger, then president of the South Fork Fishing and Hunting Club, awoke on the morning of the 31st to see the water just about to overtop the dam. He and several others worked throughout the morning to unclog the fish screen at the spillway.  By 1:30 that afternoon they were forced to take to the high ground and wait.

The dam was 72 feet high, 931 feet long, holding back an estimated 4.8 billion gallons of water. The average flow of water over Niagara Falls is 64,750 cubic feet per second.  When the South Fork Dam let go it released 642,726,934 cubic feet of water down the valley.  The lake was emptied in 45 minutes.johnstown-flood

The Village of South Fork was first to be hit, and then the town of Mineral Point, about a mile below the viaduct. When the flood receded, there was nothing left of the town but bare rock.

By the time the flood reached East Conemaugh, it had picked up so much debris that one survivor said it looked like a “huge hill, rolling over and over”. People living and dead cascaded down the valley with trees and homes and animals and debris of every kind. Next the flood hit the Cambria Iron Works and the Gautier Wire Works in Woodvale, sweeping train cars, boilers and miles of barbed wire up in the deluge.

Locomotive engineer John Hess got ahead of the approaching flood for a time, as he tied down the train whistle and raced backward down the line trying to warn as many as possible. His warning saved many people before the flood caught up with him and tossed his locomotive aside.  Hess would survive the flood, though many of the passengers stranded in rail cars, did not.

johnstown-flood, RR CarTraveling at 40 miles per hour, the 60′ wall of water and debris hit Johnstown 57 minutes after the dam broke. Some residents had managed to scramble to high ground, but most were caught by surprise by the flood waters.

An enormous stone railroad bridge at the edge of Johnstown caught and held tons of barbed wire entangled debris on its upstream side. Perversely, the debris caught fire and the fire became an inferno that burned for three days, killing 80 people. After the flood waters receded, the field of debris at the bridge covered 30 acres and reached 70 feet high.

Johnstown - RR BridgeWhen it was over, 2,209 were dead. 99 entire families had ceased to exist, including 396 children. 124 women and 198 men were widowed, 98 children orphaned. 777 people, over 1/3rd of the dead, were never identified.  Their remains are buried in the “Plot of the Unknown” in Grandview Cemetery in Westmont.

Property damage exceeded $17 million, over $425 million in today’s dollars.

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May 23 1928  Crash of the Airship Italia

The airship’s control cabin hit the jagged ice seconds later, smashing open and spilling ten crew members and a Fox Terrier onto the ice.

The semi-rigid airship Italia departed from Milan on April 15, 1928, headed for the Arctic.  Italia carried 20 personnel, a payload of 17,000 pounds of fuel and supplies, and the expedition mascot, a Fox Terrier named Titina.

Stolp, Landung des Nordpol-Luftschiffes "Italia"

Her mission was to explore the ice cap surrounding the North Pole, operating out of an expedition base in Ny-Ålesund, one of four permanent settlements on Spitsbergen Island in the Kingdom of Norway.

italia mapThe first of five planned sorties began on May 11, before turning back only eight hours later in near blizzard conditions.  The second trip took place in near perfect weather conditions and unlimited visibility, the craft covering 4,000 km (2,500 miles) and setting the stage for the third and final trip departing on May 23.

Strong tailwinds aided the passage as Italia traveled north along the Greenland coast, arriving at the north pole only 19 hours after departing Spitzbergen. Though wind conditions prevented them from dropping scientists onto the ice sheet, survival packs and the inflatable raft they brought along for the purpose would turn out to be providential.

Trouble started almost immediately, as the tailwinds that brought them to the pole were now strong headwinds as they headed south to King’s Bay. Fuel consumption was doubled as the airship struggled to make headway.  After 24 hours, they were only halfway back.

A cascade of events took place on the morning of the 25th, causing Italia to be tail-heavy and falling at a rate of two feet per second. Captain Umberto Nobile ordered Chief technician Natale Cecion to dump ballast chain, but the steep deck angle made the task difficult. The airship’s control cabin hit the jagged ice seconds later, smashing open and spilling ten crew members and a Fox Terrier onto the ice.

Now relieved of the weight of the gondola, the envelope of the ship began to rise again with a gaping tear where the control cabin used to be.

What followed was a remarkable display of calm under pressure. As the airship’s italia-crashenvelope floated away, Chief Engineer Ettore Arduino started to throw everything he could get his hands on down to the men on the ice. These were the supplies intended for the descent to the pole, but they were now the only thing that stood between life and death. Arduino himself and the rest of the crew drifted away with the now helpless airship.

Nine survivors and one fatality were left stranded on the ice.  They immediately began to go through their supplies. They found a radio and fashioned a mast from the debris, and set up a tent after coloring it red using the dye contained in several flares.

The tale of the Italia rescue is a story in itself, as would-be rescuers themselves became stranded or disappeared into the arctic circle, never to be seen again.

The famous polar explorer Raould Amundsen, the man who first reached the pole in 1926, disappeared on June 18 while flying on a rescue mission with Norwegian pilot Leif Dietrichson, French pilot René Guilbaud, and a three-man French crew.

Roald Amundsen
Raould Amundsen

Rescue expeditions were launched from Denmark, Finland, France, Italy, Norway, Soviet Russia, Sweden, and the United States. Bureaucratic intransigence, equipment failure and a lack of coordination would hamper rescue efforts.  It would be more than 49 days before the last of the crash survivors and stranded would-be rescuers would be found. The fate of the journalist, the three mechanics and the scientist who drifted away on the Airship Italia, is unknown.

May 6, 1937 Hindenburg

The famous film shows ground crew running for their lives, and then turning and running back to the flames. It’s natural enough to have run, but there’s something the film doesn’t show.

Hindenburg left Frankfurt airfield on its last flight at 7:16pm, May 3, 1937, carrying 97 passengers and crew. Crossing over Cologne, Beachy Head and Newfoundland, the airship arrived over Boston at noon on the 6th.  By 3:00pm it was over the skyscrapers of Manhattan, arriving at the Naval Air Station in Lakehurst, NJ at 4:15.

Foul weather had caused a half-day’s delay, but the landing was eventually cleared.  The final S turn approach executed at 7:21pm. The ship was at the mooring mast, 180′ from the ground with forward landing ropes deployed, when flames first erupted near the top tail fin.

Eyewitness accounts differ as to the origin of the fire.  The leading theory is that, with the metal frameworkHindenburg grounded through the landing line, the ship’s fabric covering became charged in the electrically charged atmosphere, sending a spark to the air frame and igniting a hydrogen leak.  Seven million cubic feet of hydrogen ignited almost simultaneously.  It was over in less than 40 seconds.

The largest dirigible ever built, an airship the size of Titanic, burst into flames as the hull collapsed and plummeted to the ground.  Passengers and crew jumped for their lives and scrambled to safety, along with ground crews who had moments earlier been positioned to receive the ship.

The famous film shows ground crew running for their lives, and then turning and running back to the flames. It’s natural enough to have run, but there’s something the film doesn’t show.  That was Chief Petty Officer Frederick “Bull” Tobin, the airship veteran in charge of the landing party, bellowing at his sailors above the roar of the flames.  “Navy men, Stand fast!  We’ve got to get those people out of there!” Tobin had survived the crash of the USS Shenandoah on September 4, 1923.  He wasn’t about to abandon his post, even if it cost him his life. Tobin’s Navy men obeyed.  That’s what you see when they turn and run back to the flames.

The Hindenburg disaster is sometimes compared with that of the Titanic, but there’s a common misconception that the former disaster was the more deadly of the two. In fact, 64% of the passengers and crew aboard the airship survived the fiery crash, despite having only seconds to react.   In contrast, officers on board the Titanic had 2½ hours to evacuate, yet most of the lifeboats were launched from level decks with empty seats. Only 32% of Titanic passengers and crew survived the sinking.  It’s estimated that an additional 500 lives could have been saved, had there been a more orderly, competent, evacuation of the ship.

As it was, 35 passengers and crew lost their lives on this day in 1937, and one civilian ground crew.  Without doubt the number would have been higher, if not for the actions of Bull Tobin and is Navy men.

Hindenberg CrashWhere a person was inside the airship, had a lot to do with their chances of survival.  Mr and Mrs Hermann Doehner and their three children (Irene, 16, Walter, 10, and Werner, 8) were in the dining room, watching the landing.  Mr. Doehner left before the fire broke out.  Mrs. Doehner and the two boys were able to jump out, but Irene went looking for her father.  Both died in the crash.

For all the film of the Hindenburg disaster, there is no footage showing the moment of ignition. Investigators theorized a loose cable creating a spark or static charge from the electrically charged atmosphere.  Some believed the wreck to be the result of sabotage, but that theory is largely debunked.

Four score years after the disaster, the reigning hypothesis begins with the static electricity theory, the fire fed and magnified by the incendiary iron oxide/aluminum impregnated cellulose “dope” with which the highly flammable hydrogen envelope was painted.

The 35 year era of the dirigible was filled with accidents before Hindenburg, but none had dampened public enthusiasm for lighter-than-air travel. The British R-101 accident killed 48, the crash of the USS Akron 73. The LZ-4, LZ-5, Deutschland, Deutschland II, Italia, Schwaben, R-38, R-101, Shenandoah, Macon, and there were others.  All had crashed, disappeared into the darkness, or over the ocean.  Hindenburg alone was caught on film, the fiery crash recorded for all to see.  The age of the dirigible, had come to an end.

April 15, 1912 Unsinkable

The elderly owner of Macy’s Department Stores Isidor Straus was offered a seat with his wife Ida, on account of his age. Strauss refused any special consideration and Ida refused to leave his side. The couple went down with the ship.

Titanic_stern_and_rudder
For Scale, Note the Man Standing Next to Titanic’s Stern and Rudder

The maiden voyage of the largest ship afloat left the port of Southampton, England On April 10, 1912, carrying 2,224 passengers and crew.  An accident was narrowly averted only minutes later, as Titanic passed the moored liners SS City of New York and Oceanic.

Both smaller ships lifted in the bow wave formed by Titanic’s passing, then dropped into the trough. New York’s mooring cables snapped, swinging her around stern-first.  Collision was averted by a bare 4 feet as the panicked crew of the tugboat Vulcan struggled to bring New York under tow.

The Southampton-to-New York run made stops at Cherbourg, France and Queenstown Ireland, to pick up passengers before the Atlantic crossing.  Titanic stoker John Coffey jumped ship in Ireland, hiding under a pile of mail bags.  The Queenstown native may have had a premonition as he claimed, or maybe he just wanted to go home.  Be that as it may, subsequent events may have made him the luckiest man on the cruise.

Edward Smith
Edward Smith, 1911

By the evening of the 14th, Titanic was 400 miles off the coast of Newfoundland, conditions clear, calm and cold.  There were warnings of drifting ice from other ships in the area, but the ship continued to steam at full speed.  It was generally believed that ice posed little danger to large vessels at this time, Captain Edward Smith opined that he “[couldn’t] imagine any condition which would cause a ship to founder.  Modern shipbuilding has gone beyond that.”

Lookout Frederick Fleet alerted the bridge of an iceberg dead ahead at 11:40pm. First Officer William Murdoch ordered the engines put in reverse, veering the ship to the left.  Lookouts were relieved, thinking that collision had been averted.  Below the surface, the starboard side of Titanic ground into the iceberg, opening a gash the length of a football field.  The ship had been designed to withstand the flooding of four watertight compartments.  The iceberg had opened five.  As Titanic began to lower at the bow, it soon became clear that the ship was doomed.

last-image-of-the-titanic
Last known image of titanic

Those aboard were poorly prepared for such an emergency. The ship was built for 64 wooden lifeboats, enough for 4,000, however the White Star Liner carried only 16 wooden lifeboats and four collapsibles. Regulations then in effect required enough room for 990 people. Titanic carried enough to accommodate 1,178.

As it was there was room for over half of those on board, provided that each boat was filled to capacity. The crew, however, hadn’t been adequately trained in evacuation.

The “women and children first” protocol was generally followed, sometimes to the exclusion of all others.  Ship’s officers didn’t know how many could safely board the lifeboats, and many were launched barely half-full. The first lifeboat in the water, rated at 65 passengers, launched with only 28 aboard.

3rd class passenger Bertram Dean and his wife Georgette had decided to leave the UK and emigrate to the United States.  Mr. Dean planned to become a partner in a tobacco store, owned by a cousin in Wichita.   Down below, Bert Dean was among the first to hear the collision.  After inspecting the damage, Dean told his wife to dress the children, two-year old Bertram and two-month old Millvina, the youngest passenger on board.     Georgette and the two kids were placed on lifeboat #10, the first to escape.  Most of the male passengers and crew were left aboard, even as lifeboats launched half empty.Carpathia Iceberg

J. Bruce Ismay, CEO of White Star Lines, helped to load some of the boats. Looking about and seeing no women or children in the vicinity, only then did he step onto a lowering collapsible, but he never lived down having survived a disaster in which so many others perished.

Titanic chief architect Thomas Andrews was last seen in the First Class smoking room, staring blankly at a painting of the ship.  John Jacob Astor IV, the wealthiest passenger onboard, was traveling with his young wife Madeleine Talmadge Force, 29 years his junior.  Placing her on a lifeboat, Astor asked if he could join her, explaining that she was pregnant.  All that money didn’t help him, Astor was refused.  All he could do was kiss his young wife goodbye as the boat lowered out of sight.

The elderly owner of Macy’s Department Stores Isidor Straus was offered a seat with his wife Ida, on account of his age.  Strauss refused any special consideration and Ida refused to leave his side.  The couple went down with the ship, as did Benjamin Guggenheim and his valet, who returned to their rooms and changed into Tuxedos.  Emerging on deck, the wealthy industrialist declared, “We are dressed in our best and are prepared to go down like gentlemen”.

The stories that will never be told, are those of the 700 or so 3rd class passengers below decks.  Disoriented, terrified and trapped below decks, one by one they spent their last moments gasping in shrinking pockets of air, as frigid water swirled like class V rapids through the pitch black interior of the ship.Titanic last moments

Distress signals were sent by wireless and lamp, but none of the ships responding were close enough to effect the outcome. The Californian, six miles to the north, was close enough to see distress rockets, but crew members thought the liner was having a party.

Two hours and 40 minutes after striking the iceberg, Titanic went up by the stern.  The forward deck dipped underwater as seawater poured in through open hatches and grates.  The immense strain on the keel split the ship in two between the third and fourth funnels, as the unsupported stern rose out of the water.  Propellers exposed, the stern remained afloat for a few minutes longer, rising to a nearly vertical angle with hundreds of people still clinging to it. The last piece sank out of sight at 2:20am, plunging passengers and crew into 28°F water.  Most of them died within minutes of hypothermia, cardiac arrest, or drowning. Lifeboats had room for almost 500 more, but only 13 were pulled from the water. Titanic_wreck_bow

RMS Carpathia arrived on the scene around 4am, in response to Titanic’s distress calls.  Originally bound for Austria-Hungary, Carpathia diverted to New York with survivors.  A crowd of 40,000 awaited the arrival of 705 survivors on the 18th, despite a cold, driving rain.  It would take four full days to compile and release the full list of casualties.

Millvina Dean, once the youngest survivor of the Titanic disaster, died 97 years later, the last survivor of the sinking.  The remains of her father lie with the ship on which he perished, 12,415 feet beneath the surface of the north Atlantic.

March 25, 1911 Triangle Shirtwaist Fire

The fire started in a wicker scrap bin on the 8th floor, and spread quickly. A bookkeeper warned coworkers on the 10th by telephone, but there was no way to contact anyone on the 9th.

As the late 19th century gave way to the 20th, the increasing number of women in the workforce was driving a change in women’s fashion.  Gone were the confinements of Victorian era bodices.  The “shirtwaist” blouses of the Edwardian era were patterned on men’s shirts only looser, ranging from plain, “ready to wear” simplicity to the elaborate detail and stitching that transformed the plain shirtwaist to haute mode.

A September 16, 1906 article in the Pittsburgh Press said, “A very fashionable woman with a half a hundred waists boasts that there are no two alike.”  Shirtwaist blouses were sold around the country, but most were made in Philadelphia and New York City.

Triangle_Shirtwaist_FactoryAt the turn of the century there were over 450 textile factories in Manhattan alone, employing something like 40,000 garment workers.  Many of them were young, immigrant women of Jewish and Italian ethnicity, working nine hours a day on weekdays and seven on Saturdays.  Wages were typically low:  $7 to $12 per week, equivalent to $3.20 to $5.50 per hour, in 2016.

The Triangle Shirtwaist factory was located in the Asch Building in the Greenwich Village area of New York City, now known as the Brown Building and part of New York University.  In 1911, the factory occupied the 8th – 10th floors, employing some 500 people.

The fire started in a wicker scrap bin on the 8th floor, and spread quickly. A bookkeeper warned coworkers on the 10th by telephone, but there was no way to contact anyone on the 9th floor.  Survivor Yetta Lubitz said the first warning came about the same time as the flames themselves.TriangleFireengine_crop

Every one of the fatalities that day, came from the 200 working on this one floor.  The Washington Place stairwell was locked to prevent thefts & unauthorized breaks, and the foreman had fled with the keys.  The Greene Street stairwell was packed solid in three minutes.  The only survivors were those who fled to the roof.

Terrified employees crowded onto a rickety fire escape, collapsing it under the weight and dropping 20 people some 100′ to their death.  Fire companies were quick to arrive, but ladders only reached up to the 6th or 7th floors. A life net was unfurled, but ripped away when three women jumped for it, simultaneously.  For the most part, fire companies could only look on helplessly, along with the crowd gathered on the street.  62 people, some already on fire, jumped or fell to the street below.  As on 9/11, at least one couple stepped off together, holding hands as they fell.Triangle_Shirtwaist_Factory_fire_March_25_1911

With one exit on fire and the other locked, elevator operators Joseph Zito and Gaspar Mortillalo did everything they could to save lives.  Mortillalo made three trips before being forced to give up when the rails of his elevator buckled under the heat.  Desperate to get out, some victims pried open the other elevator door, hoping to slide down greasy cables, or just to jump into the shaft and hope for the best.  The weight and impact of their bodies warped Zito’s elevator car, making another rescue attempt impossible.

Reporter William Gunn Shepard learned a sound that day, that many of us remember from those first hours of 9/11.  Before the media censored itself.  “I learned a new sound that day, a sound more horrible than description can picture — the thud of a speeding living body on a stone sidewalk”.triangle-shirtwaist-factory-fire-escape-everett

Louis Waldman, later to become a Socialist state assemblyman, described the scene:  “Horrified and helpless, the crowds — I among them — looked up at the burning building, saw girl after girl appear at the reddened windows, pause for a terrified moment, and then leap to the pavement below, to land as mangled, bloody pulp”.

146 died that day, 123 women and 23 men.

The company’s owners, Max Blanck and Isaac Harris, survived by fleeing to the roof when the fire began. The pair had four suspicious factory fires between 1902 and 1910, but arson was not suspected in this case.Triangle-Shirtwaist-Fire1

Blanck and Harris were indicted on charges of 1st and 2nd degree manslaughter, but the jury acquitted them both. Their attorney convinced the jury that witnesses may have been “coached”, since their stories didn’t change on cross examination.

They lost a subsequent civil suit in 1913 in which plaintiffs won compensation amounting to $75 per dead victim. The insurance company paid $60,000 more than the reported losses, for a profit of $336 per corpse.

The fire led to 64 new laws regulating the health and safety of New York’s factory workers, and helped spur the growth of the International Ladies’ Garment Workers’ Union (ILGWU).  In 1913, Blanck was once again arrested for locking a factory door during working hours. He was fined $20.

The Triangle Shirtwaist conflagration led to the largest loss of life by fire, in New York history.  The second largest would be the “Happy Land” night club fire in the Bronx.  79 years later, to the day.

triangle shirtwaist factory

February 26, 1993 World Trade Center

Ramzi Yousef is said to have considered adding cyanide in the bomb, and later regretted not having done so

Ramzi Yousef arrived at JFK International Airport on September 1, 1992, traveling under a false Iraqi passport. His companion Ahmed Ajaj tried to enter with a forged Swedish passport, and was arrested. Though his entry was illegal, Yousef was claiming political asylum. He was given a hearing date before an INS magistrate, and admitted.

After setting up residence in Jersey City, Yousef connected with the blind Muslim cleric Sheikh Omar Abdul Rahman at the Al-Farooq Mosque in Brooklyn. There he was introduced to his co-conspirators, immediately beginning the assembly of a 1,310 lb urea-nitrogen hydrogen gas enhanced explosive device.

Yousef was injured in a car crash in late 1992, and ordered many of the chemicals for this device from his hospital bed. It’s surprising how easy it was for these guys.

img_0422The plan was to attack the north tower of the World Trade Center in Manhattan, toppling it into the south tower and taking them both down.

The conspirators believed they’d kill 250,000.

The yellow Ryder van entered lower Manhattan on the morning of Friday, February 26, 1993, driven by Ramzi Yousef and Eyad Ismoil. The pair pulled into the B-2 underground parking level under the north tower, lit the 20′ fuse, and fled.img_0423

As with the device used in the Beirut barracks bombing of 1983, this was a fuel-air explosive (FAE), designed to magnify and sustain the blast effect by mixing fuel with atmospheric oxygen. The main charge was surrounded by aluminum, magnesium and ferric oxide particles and surrounded by three hydrogen gas cylinders, to intensify the fireball and afterburn of those solid metal particles.

The US Defense Intelligence Agency conducted a study of fuel-air explosives, reporting: “What kills is the pressure wave, and more importantly, the subsequent rarefaction [vacuum], which ruptures the lungs…. If the fuel deflagrates but does not detonate, victims will be severely burned and will probably also inhale the burning fuel. Since the most common FAE fuels, ethylene oxide and propylene oxide are highly toxic, undetonated FAE should prove as lethal to personnel caught within the cloud as most chemical agents”.

Ramzi Yousef is said to have considered adding cyanide in the bomb, and later regretted not having done so.

img_0424The terrorist device exploded at 12:17:37, hurling super-heated gasses from the blast center at thirteen times the speed of sound. Estimated pressure reached 150,000 psi, equivalent to the weight of 10 bull elephants.

The bomb ripped a 98-foot wide hole through four sub-levels of concrete, killing five Port Authority employees and A dental products salesman, who was parking at the time. The real death toll was seven, if you’re inclined to include secretary Monica Rodriguez Smith’s seven-month pregnancy. She was killed with her unborn baby, while checking timesheets.

Another 15 were left with with traumatic blast injuries. 1,042 more were injured, many inhaling the thick, acrid smoke filling stairwells and elevator shafts.

Power went out instantly trapping hundreds in elevators, including a group of 17 kindergartners, on their way down from the south tower observation deck.

Engineers believe that the terrorists would have accomplished their purpose of toppling the building, had they placed their explosive device  closer to the building’s concrete foundations.

300 FBI agents combed through the rubble of the underground parking garage, finding an axle fragment containing the Ryder van’s VIN. Mohammed Salameh, who had rented the vehicle, reported the van stolen and was arrested on March 4, when he came to get his deposit back.

Mahmud Aboulhalima, Mohammad Salameh, Ahmed Ajaj and Nidal Ayyad were convicted of carrying out the bombing, in March 1994. Mastermind Ramzi Yousef and van driver Eyad Ismoil, were convicted in November, 1997. Mohammed Jamal Khalifa was deported to Jordan.

Abdul Rahman Yasmin, the only person associated with the bombing who was never prosecuted in the United States, was interviewed for a 60 minutes segment in 2002. He was being held prisoner in Baghdad at that time. He has not been seen or heard of, since the 2003 invasion of Iraq. “The Blind Sheikh”, Omar Abdul Rahman, was convicted in October 1995 of seditious conspiracy, and sentenced to life +15 years. He died in prison last week, at the age of 78.img_0426

A granite memorial fountain was erected above the site of the explosion and dedicated in 1995, bearing the names of the six adult victims of the attack. Under the names appear this inscription. “On February 26, 1993, a bomb set by terrorists exploded below this site. This horrible act of violence killed innocent people, injured thousands, and made victims of us all.”

The fountain was destroyed with the rest of the World Trade Center, on September 11, 2001.img_0425

January 15, 1919 Great Molasses Flood

“Molasses, waist deep, covered the street and swirled and bubbled about the wreckage … Here and there struggled a form—whether it was animal or human being was impossible to tell. Only an upheaval, a thrashing about in the sticky mass, showed where any life was … Horses died like so many flies on sticky fly-paper. The more they struggled, the deeper in the mess they were ensnared. Human beings—men and women—suffered likewise”

File photo of Bolt of Jamaica competing in the men's 100 metres semi-final heat event during the IAAF World Athletics Championships at the Luzhniki stadium in MoscowRoger Bannister became the first human to run a sub-four minute mile on May 6, 1954, with an official time of 3 minutes 59.4 seconds. The Jamaican sprinter Usain Bolt is recorded as the fastest man who ever lived. At the 2009 World Track and Field Championships, Bolt ran 100 meters at an average 23.35 mph from a standing start, and the 20 meters between the 60 & 80 markers at an average 27.79 mph.

I suppose it would come as a rude shock to both of those guys, that they are literally slower than cold molasses, in January.

In 1919, the Purity Distilling Company operated a large molasses storage tank at 529 Commercial Street, in the North End of Boston. Fifty feet tall and ninety feet wide, the tank held 2.32 million gallons, about 14,000 tons of the sweet stuff, awaiting transfer to the Purity plant in Cambridge.

It had been cold earlier in the month, but on January 15, it was a balmy 46°, up from the bitter low of 2° of the day before.

If you’d been there at about 12:30, the first sound you might have heard was a rumble, like the sound of a distant train. The next sound was like that of a machine gun, as rivets popped and the two sides of the metal tower split apart.

The collapse hurled a wall of molasses 40′ high down the street at 35 miles per hour,bostonmolassesdisaster smashing the elevated train tracks on Atlantic Ave and hurling entire buildings from their foundations. Horses, wagons, and dogs were caught up with broken buildings and scores of people as the brown flood sped across the North End. Twenty municipal workers were eating lunch in a nearby city building when they were swept away, parts of the building thrown fifty yards. Part of the tank wall fell on a nearby fire house, crushing the building and burying three firemen alive.

In the 17th century, Sir Isaac Newton described the physical properties of fluids. Water, a “Newtonian” fluid, retains a constant viscosity (flow) between 32° and 212°, fahrenheit. We all know what it is to swim in water, but a “non-Newtonian” fluid such as molasses, acts very differently. Non Newtonian fluids change viscosity and “shear”, in response to pressure. You do not propel yourself through non-Newtonian fluid, the stuff will swallow you, whole. Not even Michael Phelps is swimming out of all that gunk.

The Boston Post reported “Molasses, waist deep, covered the street and swirled and bubbled about the wreckage … Here and there struggled a form—whether it was animal or human being was impossible to tell. Only an upheaval, a thrashing about in the sticky mass, showed where any life was … Horses died like so many flies on sticky fly-paper. The more they struggled, the deeper in the mess they were ensnared. Human beings—men and women—suffered likewise”.

molasses-plaqueIn 1983, a Smithsonian Magazine article described the experience of one child: “Anthony di Stasio, walking homeward with his sisters from the Michelangelo School, was picked up by the wave and carried, tumbling on its crest, almost as though he were surfing. Then he grounded and the molasses rolled him like a pebble as the wave diminished. He heard his mother call his name and couldn’t answer, his throat was so clogged with the smothering goo. He passed out, then opened his eyes to find three of his four sisters staring at him”.

All told, the molasses flood of 1919 killed 21 people, and injured another 150. 116 cadets from the Massachusetts Nautical School, now Mass Maritime Academy, were the first rescuers on-scene. They were soon followed by Boston Police, Red Cross, Army and Navy personnel. Some Red Cross nurses literally dove into the mess to rescue victims, while doctors and surgeons set up a makeshift hospital and worked around the clock.

It was four days before the search was called off for additional victims. The total cleanup was estimated at 87,000 man-hours.

It was probably a combination of factors that caused the tank to rupture. Construction was poor from the beginning. Locals knew they could come down and collect household molasses from the drippings down the outside of the thing, which was leaking so badly that it was painted brown to hide the leaks.

This was only the 6th or 7th time the tank had been filled to capacity, and the rising temperatures almost surely helped to build up gas pressure inside the structure. The Volstead Act, better known as Prohibition, was being passed in Washington the following day, to take effect the following year. I’m sure that distillers were producing as much hooch as they could while it was still legal. molly-molasses

Today, the site of the Great Molasses Flood is occupied by a recreational complex called Langone Park, featuring a Little League ball field, a playground, and bocce courts. The Boston Duck Tours DUKW’s regularly visit the place with their amphibious vehicles, especially the dark brown one. The one with the name “Molly Molasses”, painted on its side.