Friday, September 15, 2006

Molasses: the sweet but deadly embrace

The Chicago Tribune reports that an Illinois man died in a Kentucky molasses pit.

56-year old Vernon Schmidt was delivering molasses to a seed company when he "collapsed on a platform in the tank." This Lexington news story makes it sound like Schmidt died of oxygen deprivation, not from being drowned in molasses:

The fermenting molasses is mixed with horse feed to give the grain a sweeter taste. The fermentation in the enclosed pit also creates ethyl alcohol vapors that deprive the space of oxygen.

Oxygen levels inside the two-thousand-gallon tank were measured at less than a fifth of what humans need to breathe.

If that's true, then Schmidt died a more peaceful death than did the victims of the Molasses Disaster of January 15, 1919. In that case, the fermentation of the molasses contributed to the rupture of a massive storage tank, killing 21 people. Here's a description from Eric Postpischil's Molasses Disaster Pages:

Envision a disaster scene with smashed buildings, overturned vehicles, drowned and crushed victims, and terrified survivors running away covered in molasses. Like the modern-day disasters with which we are unfortunately familiar, there was chaos, terror, buildings in ruins, victims to be dug out, trapped survivors to be rescued, rescue workers among the victims, and anguished families rushing to relief centers to find their relatives. It was like any horrible disaster scene, with the addition that everything was covered in smelly sticky brown molasses.


Dale said...

That's some strange sticky stuff! Were you aware of the 1919 item coincidentally or did you go looking for it?

Bubs said...

I actually knew about the 1919 incident first--I heard about it from my youngest daughter a few months ago. I'll have to ask her where she found out about it. She's my expert on freakshows and historical human oddities.

Dale said...

One really should have a centrally located expert for just these times.