"Instant Disaster" Books

IIRC, Eve, you’re a writer, and I have a disaster for you that begs for a book. It’s the “Madison Butter Fire”. 50 million pounds of flaming butter, lard and cheese.

It is described at the bottom of the page, a history of the Madison Fire Department…

It would have been more ironic if people had literally been fried, but no such luck.

I think the Madison Butter Fire (with liquid butter running in the guttters), the Boston Molasses Flood, and the London Beer Flood would make a great trilogy of ballads.

There was a similar cheese fire–molten cheese running down the streets!–in Eau Claire in the early 80s, but I can’t find a cite for it.

thanks cornflakes. did the dog make it through?

The dog was fine.

An argument could be made that Galveston isn’t too bad of place to be in a storm. During Carla, there was enough water in the streets to float jellyfish but the waves were kept on the other side of the seawall. At least one Galveston mayor was voted out of office after ordering an evacuation (Alicia, 1983) that left his constituency stuck in a trafic jam on the coastal plain instead of in the relative safety of their homes.

I forgot to mention “Torn Land,” a recollection of the storm that hit Nelson County, VA in 1969. Here’s a link to a brief description:


My grandfather lived there and we went to visit the week after the flood hit. I distinctly remember seeing clothing and a tricycle up in the top of an oak tree and I also remember the most God-awful smell. Imagine August heat and humidity combined with flood water and decaying bodies. I’ll never forget it as long as I live, and my grandfather didn’t either. He told me of going outside in the storm and the rain coming down so hard that it physically hurt to stand under it.

I think one of the best on the Galveston Hurricane was Issac’s Storm. This one brings about personal recollections through the eyes of many of the Galveston’s survivors during the worst of it

From Amazon
In Isaac’s Storm, Erik Larson blends science and history to tell the story of Galveston, its people, and the hurricane that devastated them. Drawing on hundreds of personal reminiscences of the storm, Larson follows individuals through the fateful day and the storm’s aftermath. There’s Louisa Rollfing, who begged her husband, August, not to go into town the morning of the storm; the Ursuline Sisters at St. Mary’s orphanage who tied their charges to lengths of clothesline to keep them together; Judson Palmer, who huddled in his bathroom with his family and neighbors, hoping to ride out the storm. At the center of it all is Isaac Cline, employee of the nascent Weather Bureau, and his younger brother–and rival weatherman–Joseph. Larson does an excellent job of piecing together Isaac’s life and reveals that Isaac was not the quick-thinking hero he claimed to be after the storm ended. The storm itself, however, is the book’s true protagonist–and Larson describes its nuances in horrific detail.

It was very engaging and drew you in uneasily as you know what damage was wrought and how some of the characters choose to ignore the obvious dire warnings.

Correction: Peshtigo is in northern Wisconsin, not far from the Michigan border.

very true, scarlett. thanks. that fire was on both sides of the border, mostly wisconsin. both sides of green bay. peshtigo got the worse of it. after reading the book, i’m still amazed that anyone lived through it to tell the story.

I was amazed to learn that the fire actually jumped the Menominee River!

that fire jumped everywhere. sometimes i think that fire is a living being. some of them seem to have a most vicious nature. the peshtigo fire was an esp. vicious beast. if not for cow in chicago…

Just bumping this to note that I just snagged a copy of Dark Tide: The Great Boston Molasses Flood of 1919!

ooooooh, eve! that is amazing! looks like amazon is gonna get another order for this one. thanks!

BTW, Eve, have you ever read the books of poems written about the Titanic? How about MacGonagall’s “Poems on the Tay Bridge”?

The current issue of Smithsonian Magazine has an article on the CO2 lakes.
Another disaster you might be interested in is the Halifax explosion on December 6, 1917. A shipload of munitions was involved in a collision and levelled much of the city. Abebooks lists a broadside of a poem about the event.

Eve, you need to write or do a compendeum of Disaster stories.

What about the ship that sank in …uh …the St. Lawrence Seaway, Empress of Ireland? More people died than the Titanic, but this is not as heard of as much.

And the Chicago (Triangle?) fire, where a hundred or so women burned to death in their work house factory because there were no safety laws about exits and whatnot.

More scientific than some of these others, but still good, is Simon Winchester’s Krakatoa: The Day the World Exploded.

You said you wouldn’t read anything recent, Eve, but what’s the cutoff date? I was traveling up the east coast a couple summers ago and went to Lakehurst, New Jersey, to see the sight of the Hindenburg crash. That was in 1937, which seems positively modern in this thread.

Disaster fans might want to check out this site on the New Madrid earthquake of 1811 - the largest earthquake in American history. It contains several contemporary accounts from diaries and newspapers.

Shirley, there actually is a brand-new book out about the Triangle Fire.

Michael, I read that Krakatoa book, and I must admit I found it as dull and dry as a week-old piece of matzoh.

i read the krakatoa book as well. i found his way of writing quite interesting. you really bounced about and learned many things not related to the volcano. i found it interesting but not a quick read.

little nemo, thanks for the link.