100 years after the Great Molasses Flood

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Yes you read that correctly. On this day 100 years ago molasses rushed out of its ill-kept steel tank and onto the streets of Boston, Massachusetts. Molasses is the dark gooey stuff that sits in your cabinet until the holidays when you use your annual one teaspoon and then back into the cabinet it goes. An innocuous little jar, yet in 1919 this sugary tsunami took the lives of 21 people and injured dozens. Most who perished in the wave died of asphyxiation. The byproduct of refined sugarcane, molasses was often used to make industrial alcohol, hence why it was being stored in a large vat near the buzzing industry of Boston Harbor. Molasses would arrive from Puerto Rico, get pumped into large steel vats in the surrounding industrial parks, and then be transported by train tankers to refineries in Cambridge. The Purity Distilling Company however did not take care of these large steel tanks as they maintained high heat in order to keep the molasses liquid. Like most industrial disasters, this could have been prevented with the proper foresight and perhaps like three seconds of asking “is this a good idea?”. Yet this was a money hungry company with a high demand for industrial alcohol so the precarious steel vats full of molten molasses sat next to the North End of Boston where many impoverished Italian immigrants called home during this time.

It was a particularly warm winter day for Boston on January 15th, 1919. A nice 40 degrees Fahrenheit or just under 5 degrees Celsius. With the high heat within the tank and less than ideal weather outside, the steel tank burst and unleashed a dark wave going about 35 mph (56 km/h [you are so welcome]). Imagine being hit by a car but its made of molasses. That’s what it was like for the victims of the flood that day. The sticky wasteland that the molasses left was almost worst than the initial disaster. Waist high molasses was stuck in the streets having cooled down and nearly solidifying. Maritime Trainees took weeks to cleanup the sticky streets. Some accounts even have the sickly sweet smell of molasses lasting two summers after the incident. So what has happened in the 100 years since one of the weirdest tragedies. For one building regulations in the area have been strictly enforced and just as well the Italian American community within the area is still going strong. Recently history enthusiasts of the area marked the exact spot of the tank with colored flags and commemorated the lives lost. They did note however the smell of molasses has since gone away in the area, and if you have ever smelled molasses you’ll know that’s the real happy ending.


If you are interested in learning more about the gruesome flood details, check out Dark Tide: The Great Boston Molasses Flood of 1919


The Case of Peter Blagojevich


The town of Kisiljevo is hoping that their hometown vampire can begin to rival the likes of Dracula. In 1725 Petar Blagojević a peasant from the small Serbian town of Kisiljevo passed away and was laid to rest in an unassuming grave. Within 24 hours of his death, his wife claims she was visited by her late husband and a fellow villager was dead after being as they claimed “suffocated by Petar” Another 24 hours went by. Another death. For 8 more days one villager died. Petar’s wife and family reported more disturbances. Some sources say that Blagojević requested his wife’s shoes and she had to flee the village for safety afterwards, while others say that the undead Petar requested food, and when his son refused Petar brutally murdered and it’s assume that he also drank his son’s blood. By the 9th day of death the village requested a town officer and local priest to examine Blagojević’s corpse for evidence of vampirism. Once exhumed it was recorded that Petar’s body was much more supple than it should have been at the time in the decomposition process. Nails were long, beard growing, and flesh had a pink tint. Blood could even be seen in the mouth of the recently dead Petar. With this discovery his heart was taken and staked (a wooden stake driven quickly through) and the body was burned. The village that had been beset with dread was free of the nightly hunt. The story of Petar was part of the vampire craze of the 18th century. While the “unnatural” state that the body was found in has now been found to be a common occurrence, Kisiljevo hopes to create a healthy tourist center with the legend of the Serbian Vampire Petar Blagojević.


A Week After Whitey's Death

The Infamous Whitey Bulger, Boston mobster and informant was found dead in his cell at 8:20 on Tuesday morning October 30, at age 89. Bulger was brutally beaten to death within hours of being transferred to Hazelton. James Bulger was born to a one-armed dock worker from canada and an unremarkable first-generation Irish immigrant. The youngest of three siblings Jimmy, as he like to be called, took to crime at a young age. He carried a switchblade around in his cowboy boots and even tried to get people call him “Boots” for a time, but it wouldn’t stick. Police soon took to calling him “Whitey” due to his light blonde hair, a nickname which he hated, but stuck nonetheless. In his teenage years he joined the unsurprisingly named Boston street gang “the Shamrocks”. In this gang he would be arrested and sentenced to a Juvenile Reformatory program, his crimes including assault, theft and forgery.

Surprisingly Whitey then went on to Join the Airforce, as you can imagine a reform school in 1940’s was  not very effective and the newly enrolled Bulger spent much of his time in the military behind bars. Shockingly however he was honorably discharged in 1952. Returning to Massachusetts with basic training and a few more years of jail time under his belt Whitey once again landed himself in prison. For the conspiracy folks, Bulger brushed shoulders with MK-Ultra after volunteering for LSD based experiments. During this time Whitey was transferred from prison to prison in what could only be described as a famous prison super tour, starting in Atlanta Penitentiary, on to Alcatraz, then Leavenworth, and finally was set free out of Lewisburg after serving a total of 9 years. Now a free man he returned to Boston and worked as an enforcer for another famous mobster Donald Killeen. To make a long gang-war story short someone from Killeens gang bit the nose off of a member of the rival Mullen gang and thus a gang war broke out with Whitey as one of the commanding officers, while many men died as a result no one else got their noses bitten off.

After joining the Winter Hill gang and rising up the ranks Bulger went from street enforcer to running the streets of Boston (which is hard because it’s so damn easy to get lost). This is where the legacy of Whitey really takes off. Along with running most of the organized crime in the city of Boston Whitey started a career as an FBI informant, taking advantage of the fact that his older brother was now in the Massachusetts Senate. From the 70’s to the 90’s Whitey Bulger was the premier crusty Irishman when it came to racketeering. Controlling the drug supply by day and informing on enemies by night. But unbenounced to the Boston gangs, the DEA was closing in. The golden age of the Winter Hill gang would soon be coming to a crashing halt. By 1995 the DEA was closing in on the accomplished boss having arrested most of Bulger’s close counterparts Whitey and his girlfriend, Theresa Stanley, decided that it was a good time to flee. Unfortunately for Whitey, life on the run was not all it was cracked up to be for Theresa and within a month they returned to Boston. But Whitey Bulger being Whitey Bulger just took his OTHER mistress Catherine Greig. And thus began a 16 year chase for Bulger as his name sat on the Top Ten Most Wanted list and the FBI chased him across the country and the world. It’s important to note all the cool shit Whitey did during this time, to spite those trying to track him down. The FBI attempted to coax him out of hiding by showing limited premiers of the Departed on the West coast.


He and Catherine even visited Alcatraz posed as tourists during his 16 years on the run. If that’s not the most smug couple you’ve ever seen you’re probably wrong. This spree of tourist photos and easy living would not last however. In June of 2011 Bulger and his mistress were captured in Santa Monica. The reign of James “Whitey” Bulger came to a screeching halt as he was indicted on 11 counts of murder. James Bulger lived a long crime-riddled life, his death marks a final end of a bygone era of crime and terrible nicknames.

- Michelle

Sunrise, Sunset

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This past Monday, the Sunset Mesa funeral home was shut down by the Office of Funeral Home and Crematory Registration after it was discovered that they were giving back “cremated remains” that were cement powder, not human ashes.
Various reports from former employees of Sunset Mesa led the FBI to conduct a raid on the Colorado business last week.  They found bags upon bags of cement in the funeral home’s back rooms.  
Sunset Mesa’s owner Megan Hess also runs a body broker operation, Donor Services out of the same building.  Former employees have relayed the graphic extent to which donated bodies there were dismembered and sold (which might just hint at where the missing cadavers from the next door crematorium went).  Once again, family members have been duped by a funeral home while the remains of the dead are profited off of and transported around the world in the mysterious market of cadaver relocation.

The phone number and website for Sunset Mesa is down, and mysteriously, so is that of Donor Services, even though the Office of Funeral Home and Crematory Registration maintained that it did not shut down the donation operation as it’s out of their purview.  
Hess’ lawyer has asked not to be contacted further, but we’ll be keeping tabs on what ends up happening to her.  Let’s face it, the real crime here is her haircut.
Oh, Megan.

Oh, Megan.

-Rachel Hsu

Last Goodbyes


Sometimes death isn't the end

Abrahamic religions — Christianity, Judaism, and Islam — bury their dead rather immediately.  In the growing secular world, many people choose to be cremated.  However, many options exist outside of these, as is evidenced by different funeral traditions and attitudes towards death around the world.
On the Indonesian island of Sulawesi, the Torajan people have a special relationship with death.  A dead person who is still home with family is not dead, just makula’, just sick.  Shortly after passing, corpses are treated with formaldehyde so that they do not putrify.  Then, they are lovingly fed, washed, and spoken to.  While the poor can usually only justify keeping the dead for a few weeks before the funeral ceremony, it is a symbol of wealth and power to sustain a years-long relationship with the slowly mummifying corpse as family members from around the world are gathered for the eventual celebratory funeral ceremony.  At the funeral, the family sacrifices as many water buffalo as they can afford (one journalist notes that 24 seems to be the minimum) in order to ensure a quick journey to the afterlife after such a slow passing away from this realm.
That’s not the end.  Every few years, they visit their ancestral tombs for a ma’nene or second funeral.  They exhume their dead relatives and share new stories and memories.  The corpse’s clothes are changed and family pictures are snapped.  The practices on Sulawesi may seem bizarre, and yet it’s common in the Western world for people to pray to their dead ancestors, speak to them through those mechanisms, and even imagine that they’ve been visited by ghostly forms.  Torajans just happen to form a relationships with the bodies of the dead rather than the souls.
In Tibet, people practice celestial burials.  Inhumation space is scarce all over the world, but especially in the rocky mountains of Tibet.  Wood is a valuable resource, as fires are necessary for heat and cooking.  Western notions of burial and cremation are not particularly feasible in this part of the world.  Luckily, their local tradition doesn’t require too many ingredients — just a saw, some barley flour, and yak butter. 
The bodies of the dead are dismembered and defleshed by a rogyapa or “body breaker.”  The meat is pounded with a mallet into a mixture of the butter and flour to entice the local Himalayan griffon vultures, meat-eating birds with 9-foot wingspans.  The less tasty parts of the body are laid out first while the tender cuts are withheld so that the vultures don’t cut and run after grabbing the tastiest bits of human.  Once the body has been completely returned to nature, the funeral is complete.  The vast majority of Tibetans choose to be disposed of in this way.
Not to mention the fact that you can get ashes turned into a synthetic gemstone, a vinyl record, or a tree!  All of which don’t contribute towards the unfortunate fact that the Abrahamic religions’ full-body-burial traditions have led to rapidly decreasing cemetery real estate on our finite little planet.
With so many exciting options out there, it’s hard to imagine that everyone’s sticking with the same old formulae and family plots.  Yawn!
-Rachel Hsu

Donate Today!



(what might happen when you donate your body to science)

The two picnic coolers, wrapped with duct tape, split open as the ground crew at the Detroit Metro airport tossed them onto a palette in a climate-controlled warehouse.  Out came pouring blood.  
Inside were eight human heads. 
And it was ostensibly legal.  The heads came from International Biological, Inc., which is one of those places one might choose to donate themselves to after death.  About 20,000 human bodies are donated in the US annually.  Selling a body is illegal, of course, but International Biological, Inc., manages to make quite the profit through allocation fees.
It charges for packaging (though how heads inside duct tape camping coolers is advanced packaging is not completely explained), delivery, “matching,” and “placing.”  At the end of the day, a human body’s various parts and pieces can yield a company like International Biological $100,000.
The owner of International Biological, Inc., Arthur Rathburn , did get in trouble for the eight heads, however.  The packages were marked to contain five heads, a torso, and a complete human body, so mislabeling was one gripe.  Secondly, the remains tested positive for hepatitis B, though Rathburn marked them as non-infectious.  The names and death certificates weren’t included with the heads either.  The red liquid in the cooler, which tested positive thrice for blood, was marked as a preservative.  So for fudging some bureaucratic labeling (and dealing in infected bodies), Rathburn was in hot water.  What wasn’t illegal is that the families of those bodies remained blissfully unaware until the story came to light, under the misapprehension that bodies donated to science are operated on by medical students, cremated, and returned to their families.
By time the FBI alerted Linda Hayes that her husband’s head was of those found in the Detroit airport, she had already scattered the ashes International Biological, Inc., had returned to her.
-Rachel Hsu

Black Friday



(We know this scene made you cry)

As soon as Thanksgiving ends, the feverish holiday season is upon us.  Black Friday is a holiday of shopping and sales, so that everyone can do their Christmas/Hanukkah/Festivus errands while they’re still off work.  With this rush of shopping comes a lot of chaos.

A common source of injury on Black Friday in the past decade has been mall stampedes.  When faced with 50% off toasters and BOGO free jeans, humans start to resemble that one scene in The Lion King.  18 people have been trampled and severely wounded. one Wal-Mart employee met his doom after being rushed by eager deal-hunters. 

41 people have been pepper sprayed for Black Friday-related reasons in recent history (one perpetrator, who sprayed 20 people, called it an act of “competitive shopping” that helped her snatch up xboxes, wii games, and bratz dolls).  Car crashes attributed to Black Friday post-shopping exhaustion caused 13 major injuries and cost 3 lives.  In the land of the free (and Columbine and Pulse and Vegas), of course 15 people have been shot over things as mundane as prime parking spots.  And the count rounds out with 5 stabbings for good measure.

Here are some headlines from Black Friday, 2017:

“Black Friday Missouri mall shooting leaves teen seriously injured”

“One male shot, one male stabbed at Willowbrook Mall on Black Friday”

“One shot outside Missouri mall, brawls close Alabama shopping center as Black Friday begins”

But I got this great maroon turtleneck and a cute skirt from Madewell, so I’m calling this Black Friday a success!

-Rachel Hsu