The Albany molasses spill of 1968

albany molasses spill 1968 article Toldeo Blade

The AP article that ran on the front page of the Toledo Blade, and in other newspapers around the country. (The story was on page 3 of the Schenectady Gazette. Presumably it got more attention in the Knickerbocker News.)

Odd bit of local history: In 1968 there was a fatal molasses spill at the Port of Albany. You read that correctly.

On December 20 of that year a tank holding 12,000 tons of molasses at the port ruptured, spilling its contents. One man was killed, and another suffered minor injuries. From an AP story at the time:

The molasses, which is stored at a temperature of between 80 and 90 degrees, formed an artificial lake in a two-block area in the Port of Albany section bordering the Hudson River.
Firemen and police used shovels and mechanical equipment to channel the molasses into the river and away from neighboring warehouses.
In some areas, the syrup was as deep as four feet. Several cars were ruined in the deluge.
One worker said a car was "blown apart" by the force of the onrushing molasses.
"There was no noise," said John Tomchick, an electrician who was working in the area at the time.
"One man saw the stuff and hollered, 'Molasses!' It just popped."

So, how do you clean up 2.5 million gallons of molasses? Good question. The port's management wasn't sure, either. The cleanup lasted weeks. A follow-up AP story from December 25, notes that port management was hoping that colder overnight temperatures would aid the cleanup: "[Port General Manager Francis. W. Dunham] said he did not think the molasses would turn to rock-candy hardness, but to 'popsicle' consistency."

No such luck, apparently. Here's a Knickerbocker News photo from the cleanup (better version) which shows a bulldozer pushing waves of molasses. From the caption: "Officials emerged from a two-week quandary as to how to dispose of the sticky situation by deciding to truck the molasses to deep ditches, then covering the ditches with soil."

Years later, in what may have been more myth than fact, it was said the odor of molasses was still detectable on warm summer days.

(We're not sure how we first heard about this story -- probably Carl -- but we were reminded of it today by this Modern Farmer listicle about "Strange But True Food Disasters," among which are two molasses-related disasters, including the infamous Great Boston Molasses Tragedy of 1919.)

image via Google Newspaper archive


I didn't actually hear this story while growing up, but I do remember going for a drive one evening down River Road. When we were near the Port, my uncle asked me if I could "smell the molasses from the old tank." And I certainly could.

That was around 1979 or 1980.

The first I heard of the molasses spill was a reference to the "insidious goo" in a book called "Travelers' Tales - Rumors and Legends of the Albany-Saratoga Region" which was compiled (in part from old newspapers) and published by two boys in the early 1980s. I came across the book in the Pruyn Collection at the main branch of the APL about five years ago.

There's still a lingering smell of molasses down at the Port from the tanks themselves. I tagged along with someone who was bringing some metal to a scrap facility in the shadow of the tanks and, sure enough, we could smell it.

Not to rain on your parade - but the man who died was horribly injured and died an awful death. There are women in our FB group who were ER nurses on duty.when he was brought it.

When I lived in the South End in the late 80s there was a molasses spill -- and the whole neighborhood smelled for days.

As far as I know, there are still molasses operations in the port -- in fact, I've seen them transferring it from rail cars to a big storage tank. So, if the port still smells sweet, there's a good reason.

Here's a Google Street View from the port. Zoom in on the blue pipe!

There must be some amount of molasses in the port because I know that my horse feed is made there and contains molasses. Very interesting story. You just don't imagine the stuff as dangerous

The man killed in this incident was my dad. I was 10 when it happened. I was told my dad was killed instantly due to very significant internal injury. I am looking for more images of actual damage etc., or even whom was running Port at the time to ask them for more images. My mom has passed and we cannot find much on this. If anyone has comments or knows of other images let us know.

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