Young Patrick wanted something more out of life than the constant struggle of his forefathers. Always a hard worker, Patrick struggled to save for the long voyage across the sea to the Promised Land; America. In 1887, at the age of 13 or 14, he made the trip.
Young Patrick settled in Boston Mass. Boston was a bustling city, just the right place for an energetic young man with a vision. He set about the business of building his dream. On January 3, 1897 Patrick married the beautiful Bridget Foley in Boston.
Bridget was a first Generation Irish-American. Her parents, Michael and Julia Foley had come to Boston years before with the same dreams and values of young Patrick. The Foleys could neither read nor write, but they made their home in Boston and raised a family of three girls; Annie Foley Born 1878, Julia Foley born 1872, and Bridget Foley born 1873.
Patrick worked as a laborer for the North End Paving Yard in downtown Boston. He and Bridget had two children; Margaret Teresa (who later changed her name to Margaret Frances Breen) born 3/29/1898 in Boston-Died 4/11/1987 in Hyannis Mass., and Charles Richard born 2/24/1900 in Boston-Died 12/1/1988 (who later changed his name to Charles James Breen).
When Patrick left for work on the morning of January 15, 1919 he must have felt pretty good about things. The winter had been cold and hard, as Boston winters often are, but this morning the air had a touch of spring in it. The temperature rose from the 2 degrees Fahrenheit it had been for the past week to a balmy 40 degrees. This alone was enough to make a man feel good. His children had grown into fine, upstanding American citizens. His son Charles was serving in the military, off to fight for America in WWI, and his daughter Margaret had blossomed into a lovely young lady poised to start a family of her own.
Perhaps Patrick was taking advantage of the unusually warm afternoon while taking his lunch, or perhaps he was preparing to haul a load of stone to another work area in the city. We can’t know these details, but what we do know is that without warning he felt the ground beneath him start to shake as a loud rumbling sound filled the air. Things happened so quickly Patrick was barely able to register what was happening to him.
Patrick was treated at a makeshift hospital, along with the rest of the 175 people who shared this devastatingly disastrous moment. He suffered broken ribs and succumbed to pneumonia on January 19, 1919. Bridget was so distraught over her loss that she died shortly after on February 2, 1919.
It was lunch time, 12:30 on January 15, 1919. The day was warm and the kids were restless. They could barely wait for recess to get outside and head home for lunch. Once the bell rang Anthony Distasio, (Born 1910 Boston), and his three sisters, bounded out into the warm sunny afternoon. They met Pasquale Iantosca (1909-1919), also on his way home for lunch. It was a small Italian neighborhood and everyone knew everyone else at the school.
The flood came fast and furious. A wave scooped Anthony up and tossed him on top of the thick, churning liquid like a rag doll. He was powerless in its grip and rode the crest of the wave like a surfer who has lost his board. As quickly as it had scooped him up, the wave tossed him out onto the saturated dirt, dragging at him as it receded. Anthony could hear his mother, Carmela, calling for him, but he was unable to answer. He felt as if he were suffocating as he lost consciousness. When he opened his eyes again three of his four sisters stood looking down on him in horror. His fourth sister, Maria, just a year older than Anthony, did not survive the onslaught (Maria Di Stasio 1909-1919). Anthony would later learn that his friend Pasquale Iantosca was also killed in the day’s disaster.
Bridget Connolly was born in Ireland in 1854, daughter of Patrick and Mary Connolly. She left Ireland to find work in America, arriving in Boston in 1872. She settled in Boston’s North Side among the hard working Immigrant poor. It was there she met and married the dapper Bartholomew Clougherty.
Born in Ireland in 1854, Bart Clougherty, son of Matthias and Anna Clougherty, left his native Galway and arrived in Boston in 1875 at the tender young age of 20. He worked as a day laborer, taking jobs as he could find them. It did not take him long to discover Bridget. They were married in Boston on 2/23/1879.
On January 1, 1880 the Clougherty’s welcomed twin sons Bartholomew Clougherty Jr. and Mathew J. Clougherty. On 10/10/1881 they were overjoyed at the birth of Martin Clougherty, but their joy quickly turned to sorrow as the new baby died the same day. Their third child, also a son, was named in honor of their lost infant. Martin Clougherty was born in May of 1882, followed by Stephen in July of 1885 and Theresa on 12/5/1891.
Bartholomew Jr. died on 12/14/1890, just shy of his 11th birthday. By 1900 The Clougherty’s had six children but only 4 living. In 1901 Mathew Clougherty , now a young man of 20, married Sarah Doherty on 5/29/1901. He was always glad his parents had been able to attend his wedding. It was only one year later, on 5/11/1902, that Bartholomew Clougherty passed on.
Bridget continued to keep house for her children, Martin, Stephen and Theresa.
There were hard times to face after her husband’s death, as well as some joy. Bridget was able to see the birth of her grandchildren, Sarah Clougherty on 4/22/1902, Mathew Clougherty Jr. 8/12/1905, Theresa Clougherty in 1906, Adeline C. Clougherty in 1908 , Henry A. Clougherty in 1910, and Rita Clougherty in 1914. Mathew and Sarah moved from Boston to New York City, living in the Bronx while Mathew continued to build his career as an engineer.
The tragedy that happened on that fateful day in 1919 came without warning. I am certain Bridget was counting her blessings that warm January afternoon. The family had weathered the influenza in the fall of 1918 that claimed 4,794 Boston lives. They had made it through the worst of the bitter winter, and this morning was like a gift from God. After so many bitter cold weeks, to have a 40 degree day in the middle of January was practically unheard of.
For Bridget the end came swiftly and took her unawares while she busied herself making lunch for her children. Her son Stephen, unemployed, was lending her a hand while his brother Martin caught up on his rest after working late the night before. Bridget sent daughter Teresa to wake him while she and Stephen completed the meal prep. Bridget had just enough time to look out the window, alerted by an oddly muffled roaring noise. She screamed as the house exploded around her, killing her instantly.
Stephan was not as lucky. He looked up as his mother screamed and watched as his mother was crushed and swept away by the rubble. He attempted to flee but was unable to get to the door before the disaster overtook him. Martin and Teresa were able to get out with some injuries. It took several hours before they located their mother’s remains and discovered that Stephen had been taken to a makeshift hospital and treated for his immediate wounds. A week or so later he was transferred to another hospital, where his physical wounds seemed to be on the mend but he never quite recovered from the trauma of that fateful afternoon. Stephen was transferred to a mental hospital, where he remained until his death on 12/10/1919, nearly a year later.
76 year old Michael J. Sinnott (b.10/4/1840 ireland-d.1/15/1919) was working as a messenger. His message was never delivered.
James Joseph Kenneally was working hard at the North end paving yard. The day was warm and, though it was just mid-January, he was working up a sweat. He was a laborer and worked the jobs no one else really wanted. But work was hard to come by and he had a family to take care of so he didn’t complain. Until this last year he had worked as a teamster for the city of Boston. He had made friends here at the Paving Yard and as he wiped the sweat from his brow he recognized most of the men working the yard that afternoon. He may have waved a hello to Patrick Breen across the yard, before returning to his work.
James was born in Ireland in 1872. He was the son of Timothy and Honora Kinaly. Always restless, James jumped on board a ship bound for America in 1885 at the ripe age of 13. James was not a tall man, standing only 5’7” but he was a hard worker. James had settled in Boston where there was always work to be found if you weren’t afraid to look for it. He liked the feel of the city; it reminded him of home, with the smell of the salty Atlantic wafting on the noon breeze.
Initially James made his home in Cambridge Massachusetts, traveling to and from Boston to work every day. It was here that he met and married Mary O’Connell on 5/26/1892. Mary was also an Irish immigrant, the daughter of Timothy and Margaret O’Connell, born in 1872; she made her way to the US in 1883.
James and Mary settled in Cambridge and promptly started a family. They had the following children: Hanora born in 1894 was named after James’ mother. They called her Nora, they lost a child, name unknown to us at this time, in 1895 or 1896, and Margaret was born on 1/11/1897, followed closely by Timothy Christopher, named for both of their fathers, on 12/18/1898. Timothy died at the tender age of four on 2/3/1903,Patrick Francis Kenneally born 8/20/1900, died on Christmas eve, 12/24/1900, James was born 7/24/1901, John came along in 1903, followed by William in 1905 and Catherine in 1906. Catherine died on 10/20/1906.
By 1910 the surviving children were half grown and working to help the family. While James Sr. worked as a teamster for the Coal works, Young Nora, now 15, was working as a laborer for the brush works. Five children had survived the early years and things were looking up.
In 1918 James registered for the draft. The world was at war and he was ready to fight if called to serve. The family had moved to Boston by this time and James was working as a teamster for the City. Margaret was preparing to marry the handsome young Mr. Casey (first name unknown) and by a miracle the family survived the Spanish flu that hit Boston hard in August of 1918 and lingered until after Thanksgiving.
And so it was business as usual for the Kenneally’s that January day. James looked up from his work when he heard the explosion. The ground shook beneath him and it felt as if the world were ending. For James it was. He died there, along with 20 others, in a catastrophe unlike anything anyone could have imagined.
Four others from the North end paving company would lose their lives that day; Paver John Calhoun (age 43); Laborer William Duffy; Blacksmiths Peter Francis and John M. Seiberlich; along with teamsters William Brogan (61), Eric Laird (17), James Lennon (64), and Peter Shaughnessy; Drivers Flaminio Gallerani and Ralph Martin; Fire fighter George Layhe from engine 31 (38); A foreman for Bay State Express-James McMullen; Longshoreman Thomas Noonan (43); and Express man Cesar Nicolo (32).
So what was the catastrophe that brought so many lives to an end and seriously injured another 150 people, leaving the North End of Boston in ruins on that warm January 15th 1919? This was the result of the Boston Molasses Disaster, also known as the Great Molasses flood of 1919. Though this sounds like something you might see in a comic, there was nothing funny about the outcome.
The problem started at the Purity Distilling Company facility, where a tanker of molasses 50 foot tall and 90 foot in diameter stored approximately 2,300,0000 gallons of molasses. Molasses ferment over time and are used to make rum and other alcohols, as well as munitions. The tanker was waiting to be transported to the Purity plant in Cambridge but the storage tanker used to hold the delicious but deadly syrup was faulty. There was reportedly a stress crack in the manhole cover at the base of the tank. The base is the weakest part of any cylindrical tank. Local residents were known to collect the dripping syrup for their own use. Molasses candy was a treat few children could refuse, and though the local police tried to keep kids away from the tanker they were not very effective.
The outside temperature had lingered around zero for weeks, but on January 15, 1919 the temperature warmed quickly to a surprising 41 degrees. Fermentation of the liquid was increasing the internal pressure on the tank. When the external temperature rose so quickly outside the internal pressure in the tank also increased to a critical point. On this occasion the tank was filled to capacity. This had only occurred 7 times previous since the tanker had been built, and under more favorable conditions. There were reports that Purity distilling may have been trying to push production to get ahead of prohibition. The 18th amendment to the constitution, which would effectively give birth to prohibition, was under review of Congress and would be ratified the following day, January 16, 1919. The law would go into effect the following year.
At 12:30 in the afternoon at 529 Commercial Street near Keany Square, Boston Massachusetts the tanker collapsed, or exploded. Survivors claimed they could feel the ground shaking underneath them and heard a loud roar , followed by a long rumble like an out of control freight train, then a deafening crashing, as the fermenting liquid shot out. The rivets at the bottom of the tank shot out of the sides like a machine gun and a tsunami of molasses crashed through the streets with a wave 25 feet high at its peak. It moved swiftly, 35 miles per hour with enough force to bend the steel girders holding the adjacent Boston Elevated Railway. Buildings were swept from their foundations and homes exploded beneath the raging torrent, moving debris along with it and coating everything and everyone in a warm, thick goo. People drowned in the waves, bones were broken, lives destroyed. Several city blocks were flooded with molasses 2-3 feet deep. Reports from survivors stated it was impossible to make out whether forms writhing in the syrup were man or beast. Many horses, then used for transportation, died struggling to free themselves.
Anyone caught in the surge was left with coughing fits for months, maybe years after, as the liquid coated their lungs where they had inhaled it.
This little-known slice of American history shows us how fragile life can be. Tragedy can strike without warning and often leaves little trace of the devastation dealt out to so many. For those readers out there searching for those hard-to-find ancestors and relatives that seemed to vanish without a trace, keep this story in mind.
For more in-depth reading on this interesting piece of history you might want to check out the following links:
The following is some more information about the families of :
John Calhoun born in Ireland 1876- died of his injuries on 1/20/1919. John is buried alone in the New Calvary Cemetery in Mattapan Suffolk Massachusetts. Unable to determine additional information at this time.
William Duffy, born in Boston 1/5/1861 died Boston 1/15/1919. Buried at Mattapan Cemetery Suffolk county Mass. No further information available at this time.
Peter Francis Born 1855 Ireland- 1/15/1919 Boston. Buried in Holyhood Cemetery Brookline Norfolk Mass.
John M. Seiberlich, son of John M. & Anastasia Seiberich, Born 11/22/1849 in Germany. Immigrated to Boston and became a naturalized citizen on 5/15/1876. On5/25/1874 he married Regina Hunzelman, daughter of John M. & Mary C. Hunzelman,also from Germany. In 1895 they had their only child, Elizabeth Seiberlich. She died before 1910.
William Brogan son of Patrick and Bridget Brogan, born in Boston April of 1860. William never married. He lived with his mother, one brother and two sisters until his mother’s death. He continued to live with and care for his two sisters until his own untimely death in 1919.
Eric Laird, son of Eric S. laird Sr. Scottish immigrant, and Emma Powers from Canada. Eric was born on 9/8/1901 in Boston. He had recently acquired his job working as a Teamster. In addition to his grieving parents Eric left behind 4 siblings, (Robert laird 1900-?, Beatrice Laird 1904-?, Harold Laird 1905-1976, Marion Laird 1908-1992 married a Fay, Russell Laird 1911-?, He was never to know his last three siblings; Georgina Laird 1917-?, Earl Laird 1920-?, and Ruth Laird 1921-1921. Eric is buried in Glenwood Cemetery in Middlesex county Ma.
James Lennon, son of John and Bridget Lennon was born in Roscommon Ireland on 4/7/1852. He traveled to America to make his fortune between 1869-1879. He was a hard worker and worked as a laborer and a teamster throughout his life. James married Annie Elizabeth Sullivan (1865-1918) recently emigrated from Canada, on 9/15/1881. Annie was the daughter of Michael and Catherine Sullivan and the sister of the famed John L. Sullivan of Boston. James and Annie had a large family. When Annie died of heart disease, at home on Brook ave. in Roxbury on 4/24/1918, she left behind 8 living children, 4 sons and 4 daughters. James untimely and unexpected death on 1/15/1919 must have been a terrible shock to the children, coming so close to their mother’s death. The Lennon children are as follow: John Lawrence Lennon (1881-1932), George L. Lennon (1883-1925), Arthur James Lennon (1888-1921), Francis Michael Lennon (1895-1978),Anna Elizabeth Lennon (1889-?), Genevieve Lennon (1894-1962),Mary Katherine Lennon Caulfield (married Martin Caulfield prior to 1918)(1887-1921),and Katherine Sullivan Lennon (1906-1967). In addition to the living children the Lennon’s also lost three children; Grace C. Lennon 1884-1884, Harry Michael Lennon 1886-1886, and one unnamed infant 1890-1890). The Lennon’s suffered the loss of one child at birth in 1890. They never revealed the name they had chosen for the child.
Peter Shaughnessy, Like his friend Eric Laird, Peter was just starting out in life. Peter was the son on Thomas Shaughnessy and Catherine Flannigan, both born in Ireland. Peter was born in Boston in 1901. At his death he left 7 living siblings; Patrick Shaughnessy (9/24/1895-?), twins, Edward and Thomas Shaughnessy, (1896-?), Mary Shaughnessy (1903-?), Elizabeth Shaughnessy (10/20/1905-?), and Agnes Shaughnessy 1/11/1908,John Michael Shaughnessy 11/18/1910. The Shaughnessy’s lost two other children; , Martin Shaughnessy (10/4/1904-11/4/1904) and Joseph Shaughnessy (1/11/1908-2/10/1908.
Flaminio Gallerani was born in Italy on 6/24/1881, the son of Antonio Gallerani. He came to the US intent on settling in mass. On 3/21/1909, landing in the port of New York/Ellis Island. He married Leonora? And went to work as an auto truck driver, the occupation he held on 1/15/1919. Flaminio had not yet declared his intention to become a naturalized citizen but had registered for the draft on 9/12/1918. No other information is available at this time.
Ralph Martin, Ralph was a Naval Reservist, registered and ready to keep the peace during WWI. Born 1/31/1897 to Michael Thomas and Catherine Martin, he was poised to begin a new chapter in his life. Unfortunately his life was snuffed out before he had the opportunity.
George Layhe was a fireman for Boston from engine 31. The following is an excerpt from Find Grave regarding George service:
Boston Fire Historical Society~
Jan 15, 1919 3rd Engineer George Layhe, 37 Engine 31 (Fireboat)
The Molasses Tank explosion, he died from injuries when the quarters were destroyed. He was pinned and crushed by furniture and the large pool table. Several other firefighters were injured, 19 other people were killed and 40 injured. 2 alarms from Box 1234 (Commercial opposite Foster Street) sounded at 1240 hours and the 2nd alarm at 1245 hours and 1 alarm Box 1211, (Washington Street North & Endicott Streets) sounded at 1253 hours. Engineer Layhe had 8 years of service. Engine Co. 31 had to move to temporary quarters, foot of Lewis Street with Engine Co. 47 in East Boston.
George was born 10/28/1881 in Fort Plain Montgomery county New York to Daniel Layhe and Ellen Mahaney. George always wanted to be a fireman and joined the fire department as soon as he was old enough to work. On 8/16/1906 he married Elizabeth Eckbug (1881-Sweden) in Portsmouth New Hampshire. They settled in Boston and George joined the Boston Fire Department as a Marine engineer. In 1907 they had their only child, Francis E. Layhe. On 9/12/1918 George registered for the draft. His draft card tells us he was tall, medium build with blue eyes and gray hair. George died while on duty doing what he loved to do. It was a sad loss for the Boston Fire Department.
James McMullen was born in 1873 to Hugh McMullen and Mary Good, in Calais Maine. By the time James was 8, the family had moved to Boston and settled in. James was one of four brothers. On 12/29/1895 James married Delia A. Quinn in Boston. Delia died of Tuberculosis and general exhaustion on 1/19/1900. He married a second time on 2/4/1902 in Boston to Margaret M. Brennan. They had two children; Warren J. McMullen 1907, and Margaret m. McMullen 1908.
Thomas Noonan born 6/1/1875 in Ireland, immigrated to the US in 1892. In 1895 he married Margaret ?, (1872-1948) also an Irish Immigrant. They had the following children:Mary Noonan died in infancy, Rita Noonan, died in infancy, John Noonan B.1896, Catherine Noonan B1898, Thomas F. Noonan Jr. Born 1903-1942, William Noonan born 1907, Margaret Noonan born 1908 and Joseph Noonan born 1909.
Cesar Nicolo born 1887 Italy died 1/15/1919. Buried in Saint Patrick’s cemetery Watertown Mass.