On January 15, 1919, Bridget Clougherty was in the kitchen of her North End, Boston home mixing cookie dough. She called to her son upstairs.
“I’m out of syrup! Sneak over and bring me back a cup!”
Stephen had been unemployed for months and spent most of his days helping his mother around the house. He dawdled in bed for a few minutes before getting up and found her impatiently tapping her foot at the bottom of the stairs. She was holding out a wooden mug and he took it from her without a word. Dragging his feet he turned towards the distilling company on the banks of the River Charles.
As the police station came into view from behind the massive storage tank, Stephen was startled by a loud rumbling. He’d never served in the war but he was fairly sure it was the sound of a machine gun. Instinctively, he wheeled around and began running home, calling out to his mother on the way.
Bridget heard the yelling and felt the house shake. She poked her head out the kitchen window and gasped. Her son was running towards her and screaming out, “Shootout at the police station!” Behind him was a massive wave. He never knew what hit him. In a split second he was submerged and pounded against the cobblestones below.
A moment later, the Clougherty house was ripped from its foundation and pushed down Copps Hill Terrace before it finally flipped over and crumbled beneath the thick brown tide.
It wasn’t a shootout and it wasn’t a tidal wave from the river. The echo that Stephen heard before he perished was the sound of the rivets bursting from the leaky tank that held 2,300,000 gallons of molasses. The 35 mph 10’ wave killed 21 unsuspecting people.