We’re winding down on this weird-ass year. I’ve got December 31 penciled in for the big earthquake and have some peanut butter on hand, but beyond that I will remain, as always, unprepared. The future is famously opaque, and I plan for it mostly by not speculating. Whenever disaster hits, I can comfort myself by realizing I didn’t waste all those uneventful years worrying. “Make friends with prepared people”–that’s my motto.

Because you never know. Folks in Boston woke up on January 15, 1919 and fretted about the flu pandemic and groused about wearing masks like they had been for months, but never once thought about what they’d do if they were overtaken by a 25-foot wave of molasses.
Nevertheless a storage tank, fifty feet tall and containing 13,000 tons of molasses, burst all at once and sent a river of goo through the North End at a rate of 35 mph, and no one’s outrunning that sucker. (To compare, the great floods of molten basalt that formed much of Oregon could readily be outrun by anyone able to trot six mph for three days and nights in a row, but for the most part resulted in little human injury due to us having not been invented yet.)
People nearby reported hearing machine-gun sounds and were justifiably concerned, but it was only all the rivets shooting out of the exploding tank, which isn’t much safer a proposition, bystander-wise. The flood tipped over a streetcar and knocked buildings off their foundations. Best you could do if you found yourself in its path was duck behind a flour silo and hope for cookies. As it was, twenty-one people perished outright, and as the flood cooled and thickened, there was no possibility for rescue. Victims had to be chipped out and bagged for resale. Those North End Italian boys really put the snap in gingersnap!
Strictly speaking, the Molasses Flood of 1919 was predictable in retrospect, which is the least useful sort of prediction. The steel in the silo failed to meet even the lax standards of the time; rivets were flawed; testing was neglected. Hints that trouble might be in the offing, such as a deep groaning sound whenever the tank was filled, were ignored. It leaked so badly it was painted brown for camouflage.
There was, additionally, some rumor that the tank had been overfilled in anticipation of the passage of the 18th Amendment, a.k.a. Prohibition, in order to maximize the availability of rum. The Amendment was indeed passed the very next day, but the U.S. Industrial Alcohol Company insisted it was distilling molasses not for rum but for industrial and military purposes, and there was no law against war.
Nevertheless, citizens brought a class-action suit against the owners of the tank; for its part, the company blamed the explosion on anarchists.*
Basically, the disaster was a result of naked, unrestrained capitalism. There was nothing good to be said about it, except that the area smelled like cookies literally for decades, and once again the world was able to observe that we are all the same under the skin, once we’re glazed with sugar.
*not kidding