Two Disasters

Close-Up of Beer

This is a tale of two disasters, separated from each other by a little more than a century, and oddly representative of the countries in which they took place. After the horrendous hurricanes that destroyed so much of Texas, Florida, and the Caribbean—and the earthquakes that devastated parts of Mexico—I began to think of some of the strangers disasters that have befallen man. My source for both is FutilityCloset.Com, one of my favorite sources for odd facts.

The first disaster occurred on October 17, 1814, in London during the Napoleonic Wars. That’s when a giant vat bull of beer at the St. Giles brewery ruptured with such force that it ruptured many of the adjoining vats. Within minutes, some 323,000 gallons of the stuff that makes Englishmen happy flowed into the West End. That day, it turns out there was little happiness: Eight people were killed “by drowning, injury, poisoning by porter fumes, or drunkenness.” Basements were flooded, and several tenements collapsed from the onslaught of the brew.

What Can One Say?

It is a hundred five years later across the ocean in Boston, Massachusetts. The date is Wednesday, January 15, 1919. As Wikipedia describes the event:

“A muffled roar burst suddenly upon the air,” wrote the Boston Herald. “Mingled with the roar was the clangor of steel against steel and the clash of rending wood.”

The tank collapsed, sending a giant wave of molasses sweeping through the North End. Even in the January cold, the wave would have been 8 to 15 feet high and traveled at 35 mph. It broke the girders of the elevated railway, lifted a train off its tracks, and tore a firehouse from its foundation. Twenty-one people stickily drowned, and 150 were injured. Cleanup took six months; one victim wasn’t found for 11 days.

The 2.3 million gallons of molasses that caused the flood was being used to convert it to grain alcohol. Maybe so, but it kind of stands to reason that the American disaster involved a whole lot of sticky, sweet stuff.

Disaster Days?

What Fresh Hell Is This?

What Fresh Hell Is This?

Hólmavík in the Strandir region of Iceland’s West Fjords is a strange place. Its main claim to fame is the presence of the Icelandic Museum of Sorcery and Witchcraft. Now it seems there is a second reason to feel apprehensive about a visit to Hólmavík, especially this time of year when many of the roads are closed.

The reason? In a word, Hörmungardagar, or “Disaster Days.” According to Páll Stefánsson of The Iceland Review:

On Friday’s program, among other activities, is a course in self-pity, a complaint service and an ugly dance performance.

On Saturday, head to the library to find bad books and later listen to the worst Eurovision songs [this could the most dreadful event of all] and the worst poem competition, where very bad coffee will be served. In the local church, sad (and bad) songs will be performed.

On Sunday, an anger management game will be held and a program about what has happened in the region.

The festival is directed by Ester Ösp Valdimarsdóttir, the so-called [huh?] spare time manager of the Strandir region.

I would like to have stayed in Hólmavík for a day or two, but I just couldn’t book a room; so I didn’t want to risk getting stuck there. I did change buses there, however. Toward the end of my trip, I had an all-day bus ride from Isafjorður to Borgarnes, during which I changed buses in Hólmavík in the local supermarket parking lot. The long bus ride from Isafjorður was uncomfortable because the bus was full of backpackers and all their gear, so there was barely room for my feet. Fortunately, the second leg of the trip on on a large and comfy Stræto bus.

I’m sure that if you can find your way to Hólmavík this weekend—fat chance, that!—you’ll find that, after all, you don’t have all that much about which to complain.

By the way, if you’d like to see a sampling of truly dreadful Eurovision songs, click here. And please don’t hold me responsible! You will find that there are musical acts that are far worse than anything even Lawrence Welk could have imagined.