Of Slime and the City: The Boston Molasses Disaster of 1919

At 45 minutes past midday on January 15th 1919, a 25 foot high and 160 foot wide wave of molasses engulfed the city of Boston’s waterfront. A tank recently constructed near the harbour to contain the 23 million tonnes of industrial syrup had burst, the rivets that held the huge curved steel sheets pinged cartoonishly off before the sides gave way entirely, the dark gloop gushing out, carrying parts of the tank with it, bending and blurring the world around it into weirdness, plunging the streets and buildings of north Boston into sugary, viscous darkness. 21 people drowned.

I will re-enact this surreal catastrophe using a scale model of the tank (including its contents) and the surrounding area. I will, then, in the talk that follows, trace the sensual history of this event, of the peculiar moment when urban environments appear to turn gloopy. Drawing links between the phenomenology of Sartre and Levinas, anti- climb paint and Ghostbusters II, this talk will look to historicize and theorize the surreal excitement of imagining this moment.


Freddie Mason
Freddie Mason is a TECHNE funded doctoral candidate at the Royal College of Art, researching the history of viscous materials since industrialization.