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3 Weird Disasters Involving Food

The Food and Drug Administration has issued a number of dangerous food recalls in the last few years. But there was a time when food didn't just attack us after we ingested it. Some foods just cut out the middleman and created wide-scale disasters without contaminating a single colon.

1. The Boston Molasses Flood of 1919

A 50-foot high tank of sweet syrupy goodness stood over the North End of Boston when the massive steel behemoth burst open on an unusually warm January afternoon and violently drizzled over everything in its path, killing 21 people. The viscous liquid created quite a disturbing sound as it coated two city blocks. A Boston Herald reporter described how the sweet syrup tidal waves created a "muffled roar [that] burst suddenly upon the air." It also moved quite fast as it slithered through the town into a destructive fist that flipped houses and buildings, knocked over horses as if they were tasty slices of French toast and even smashed an elevated railroad structure "like an eggshell." If you're suddenly thinking about making an IHOP run, seek counseling immediately.

2. The London Beer Flood of 1814

In 1814, Meux's Horse Shoe Brewery in London constructed a brewing vat that was 22 feet tall and 60 feet in diameter, with an interior big enough to seat 200 for dinner — which is exactly how its completion was celebrated. (Why 200? Because a rival had built a vat that seated 100, of course.)

After the dinner, the vat was filled to capacity. Unfortunately, they overlooked a faulty supporting hoop. Yup, the vat ruptured, causing other vats to break, and the resulting commotion was heard up to 5 miles away.

A wall of 1.3 million gallons of dark beer washed down the street, caving in two buildings and killing nine people by means of "drowning, injury, poisoning by the porter fumes, or drunkenness."

The story gets even more unbelievable, though. Rescue attempts were blocked and delayed by the thousands who flocked to the area to drink directly off the road. And when survivors were finally brought to the hospital, the other patients became convinced from the smell that the hospital was serving beer to every ward except theirs. A riot broke out, and even more people were left injured.

3. The Wales Tapioca Freighter Time Bomb of 1972

tapiocaTapioca might sound like an innocent treat that's the favorite of toothless infants and toothless elderly the world over, but the right conditions can turn it into a bulky ship destroyer. The crew of the Swiss freighter Cassarate were hauling 1,500 tons of the stuff when a fire started in some timber in the upper holds. The freighter docked in Cardiff, Wales, so firefighters could extinguish the blaze the crew had kept under control for more than 25 days. But the fire wasn't the ship's biggest problem. The water from the firefighter's hoses seeped into the cargo hold, and the fire started cooking the tapioca. The food swelled to massive size and raised concerns that 500 truckloads of the dessert treat could buckle the ship's supports and sink it. Fortunately, crews were able to stamp out the fire and cool down the pudding before it could do any real damage to the ship's supports, the town's docks or the crew's blood sugar levels.

[The story of the beer flood was written by Ian Lendler and originally appeared in mental_floss magazine.]

Danny Gallagher is a freelance writer, reporter, humorist and ghostbuster living in Texas. He can be found on the web at dannygallagher.net, on MySpace and on Twitter.

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How Do You Stress the Word: THANKSgiving or ThanksGIVing?
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Here’s something else to stress about for Thanksgiving: where to put the stress in the word Thanksgiving.

If you’re from California, Iowa, or Delaware, you probably say ThanksGIVing, with the primary stress on the second syllable. If you’re from Georgia, Tennessee, or the Texas Panhandle, you probably say THANKSgiving, with the primary stress on the first syllable.

This north-south divide on syllable stress is found for other words like umbrella, guitar, insurance, and pecan. However, those words are borrowed from other languages (Italian, Spanish, French). Sometimes, in the borrowing process, competing stress patterns settle into regional differences. Just as some borrowed words get first syllable stress in the South and second syllable stress in the North, French words like garage and ballet get first syllable stress in the UK and second syllable stress in the U.S.

Thanksgiving, however, is an English word through and through. And if it behaved like a normal English word, it would have stress on the first syllable. Consider other words with the same noun-gerund structure just like it: SEAfaring, BAbysitting, HANDwriting, BULLfighting, BIRDwatching, HOMEcoming, ALMSgiving. The stress is always up front, on the noun. Why, in Thanksgiving alone, would stress shift to the GIVE?

The shift to the ThanksGIVing pronunciation is a bit of a mystery. Linguist John McWhorter has suggested that the loss of the stress on thanks has to do with a change in our concept of the holiday, that we “don’t truly think about Thanksgiving as being about thankfulness anymore.” This kind of thing can happen when a word takes on a new, more abstract sense. When we use outgoing for mail that is literally going out, we are likely to stress the OUT. When we use it as a description of someone’s personality ("She's so outgoing!"), the stress might show up on the GO. Stress can shift with meaning.

But the stress shift might not be solely connected to the entrenchment of our turkey-eating rituals. The thanksGIVing stress pattern seems to have pre-dated the institution of the American holiday, according to an analysis of the meter of English poems by Mark Liberman at Language Log. ThanksGIVing has been around at least since the 17th century. However you say it, there is precedent to back you up. And room enough to focus on both the thanks and the giving.

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Watch Boris Karloff's 1966 Coffee Commercial
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TAKWest, Youtube

Horror legend Boris Karloff is famous for playing mummies, mad scientists, and of course, Frankenstein’s creation. In 1930, Karloff cemented the modern image of the monster—with its rectangular forehead, bolted neck, and enormous boots (allegedly weighing in at 11 pounds each)—in the minds of audiences.

But the horror icon, who was born 130 years ago today, also had a sense of humor. The actor appeared in numerous comedies, and even famously played a Boris Karloff look-alike (who’s offended when he’s mistaken for Karloff) in the original Broadway production of Arsenic and Old Lace

In the ’60s, Karloff also put his comedic chops to work in a commercial for Butter-Nut Coffee. The strange commercial, set in a spooky mansion, plays out like a movie scene, in which Karloff and the viewer are co-stars. Subtitles on the bottom of the screen feed the viewer lines, and Karloff responds accordingly. 

Watch the commercial below to see the British star selling coffee—and read your lines aloud to feel like you’re “acting” alongside Karloff. 

[h/t: Retroist]

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