Episode 144:

Live at the Chevalier Theatre in Medford, MA

The Murder of George Parkman

Georgia

The Great Molasses Flood of 1919

Karen

Episode 144: Live at the Chevalier Theatre in Medford, MA

Karen and Georgia cover the murder of George Parkman and the Great Molasses Flood of 1919.

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The Murder of George Parkman

The Murder of George Parkman Notes:

Header Image Source: Photo by Eric Prouzet on Unsplash

Image Sources:

John White Webster from Wikipedia Commons

Dr. Parkman from U.S. National Library of Medicine

"George Parkman (February 19, 1790 – November 23, 1849), a Boston Brahmin and a member of one of Boston's richest families, was a prominent physician, businessman, and philanthropist, as well the victim in the sensationally gruesome Parkman–Webster murder case, which shook Boston in 1849–1850.

Samuel Parkman (August 22, 1751 – June 11, 1824) and Sarah Rogers had five children: Elizabeth (1785), Francis (1788), George (1790), Samuel (1791), and Daniel (1794). Samuel Parkman had also had six children by his previous marriage to Sarah Shaw. Samuel Parkman, George’s father and family patriarch, had bought up low-lying lands and income properties in Boston’s West End. He also founded and was part owner of the towns of Parkman, Ohio and Parkman, Maine. His sons from his first marriage oversaw the Ohio properties, while his second set of boys were responsible for the Maine parcel. Samuel’s daughters inherited wealth as well. The most notable was George’s sister Elizabeth Willard Parkman, whose spouse Robert Gould Shaw (1776 – 1853), grandfather of Robert Gould Shaw (October 10, 1837 – July 18, 1863, Union Army colonel during the American Civil War), grew his wife’s share of the fortune to become the senior partner in the most powerful commercial house in a city glutted with the proceeds of the China Trade.

The eleven Parkman scions united in marriage with the Beacon Hill families of Blake, Cabot, Mason, Sturgis, Tilden, and Tuckerman. Of his eleven offspring, Samuel chose George as the one to administer the Parkman estate.

George Parkman’s poor health as a youngster led him to want to study medicine. He entered the freshman class of Harvard University when he was only 15 years old, and delivered the "Salutory Oration" in 1809. Despite his assured wealth, a lecture by Benjamin Rush inspired him to take an interest in the terrible state of asylums for the mentally ill. He spent two years at the University of Aberdeen in Scotland obtaining his medical degree. After returning to Boston, he traveled aboard the USS Constitution to Europe and was under the charge of a former Bostonian, Benjamin Thompson, who introduced him to the Minister to France, Joel Barlow. Barlow introduced him to many doctors in Paris. While there, he observed the pioneering and humane treatment methods of two famous French psychiatrists, Philippe Pinel and Étienne Esquirol. He studied at the Pitié-Salpêtrière Hospital for his graduate work. "My first knowledge of the Salpêtrière, was with the high privilege of the guidance of its great physician, Pinel, and of his new illustrious associate, Esquirol. Pinel received me kindly, and inquired with much interest after Benjamin Rush, who had lately written his book on Diseases of the Mind," Parkman wrote from Paris. That same interest helped to cement the relationship between Parkman and Pinel. The 70-year-old Pinel’s ideas impressed Parkman. Under teachers like Pinel and Esquirol, Parkman practiced at the Parisian Asylum, and learned the history and treatment of mental "diseases." At this time Parkman developed his own path of his career. He spent time in England studying with men of Science, as well.

Parkman returned to the U.S. in 1813. The War of 1812 called for the service of young men and Parkman “received a commission as a surgeon in a regiment of the third brigade belonging to the first division of the Massachusetts militia.” He began in South Boston and simultaneously served as a physician to the poor with a desire to replicate the practices of Pinel and Esquirol.

Parkman believed that psychiatric institutions should reflect a residence-like setting, where patients could enjoy hobbies and socializing and participating in household chores, as permitted. Parkman thought Pitié-Salpêtrière Hospital was a good model and talked to the faculty of Massachusetts General Hospital about having a lunatic hospital connected to it. In 1817, he wrote two papers, Remarks on Insanity and The Management of Lunatics in an effort to convince the trustees of the Massachusetts General Hospital that he could supervise an asylum they were considering opening. That same year he offered to raise $16,000 for the construction of a full-size institution. Unfortunately, the trustees interpreted the offer as a proposal to fully endow the project. Later, the McLean Asylum for the Insane was established, but the trustees feared the taint of corruption if Parkman had held an appointment he had endowed. Rufus Wyman, the father of Jeffries Wyman and Morrill Wyman, who both were involved in the Parkman–Webster murder case, was appointed. Parkman retired, but continued his interest in medicine and insanity. He would visit and entertain them, he bought them an organ, and opened up his own mansions during cholera and smallpox epidemics for the treatment of patients.

Parkman was involved with the organization and publication of The New England Journal of Medicine and Surgery with John Collins Warren and John Ware in 1823. When his father died in 1824, George took complete control of the family estate and bought vast amounts of land and real estate in Boston, including many poorly maintained tenements. Money lending and real estate augmented his income; he also sold the land for the new Harvard Medical School and the Charles Street Jail.

In 1837 he revisited Pitié-Salpêtrière Hospital, and he sent a letter and some sketches to the Boston Medical and Surgical Journal, describing some Parisian hospitals.

Parkman was a well-known figure in the streets of Boston, which he walked daily, collecting his rents (a thrifty man, he did not own a horse). He was tall, lean, had a protruding chin, and wore a top hat. Oliver Wendell Holmes, Sr. said that "he abstained while others indulged, he walked while others rode, he worked while others slept." Frances "Fanny" Elizabeth Appleton Longfellow (1817 – 1861), wife of the poet Henry Wadsworth Longfellow (1807 – 1882), called him "the lean doctor... the good-natured Don-Quixote."[citation needed] He was reported to have a net worth of $500,000 in 1846, which is equal to $12,592,230 in 2012 money.

Parkman was involved with the organization and publication of The New England Journal of Medicine and Surgery with John Collins Warren and John Ware in 1823. When his father died in 1824, George took complete control of the family estate and bought vast amounts of land and real estate in Boston, including many poorly maintained tenements. Money lending and real estate augmented his income; he also sold the land for the new Harvard Medical School and the Charles Street Jail.

In 1837 he revisited Pitié-Salpêtrière Hospital, and he sent a letter and some sketches to the Boston Medical and Surgical Journal, describing some Parisian hospitals.

Parkman was a well-known figure in the streets of Boston, which he walked daily, collecting his rents (a thrifty man, he did not own a horse). He was tall, lean, had a protruding chin, and wore a top hat. Oliver Wendell Holmes, Sr. said that "he abstained while others indulged, he walked while others rode, he worked while others slept." Frances "Fanny" Elizabeth Appleton Longfellow (1817 – 1861), wife of the poet Henry Wadsworth Longfellow (1807 – 1882), called him "the lean doctor... the good-natured Don-Quixote."He was reported to have a net worth of $500,000 in 1846, which is equal to $12,592,230 in 2012 money.

The murder of George Parkman, and the subsequent publicity surrounding Webster's trial and eventual execution was deeply disturbing to Parkman's widow and children. They became virtual recluses in their home at 33 Beacon Street, and neither of Parkman's two children (George Francis and Harriet) ever married. When their mother died in 1877, they inherited the entire estate. After his sister Harriet's death in 1885, George Francis remained the sole heir to this considerable fortune. At the time of George Francis' death on September 16, 1908, the estate was valued at nearly $5.5 million. Nearly all of this estate was left to the City of Boston, one of the largest bequests ever made to it. George Parkman's house still stands at 8 Walnut Street in Beacon Hill..."

— Source: George Parkman Wikipedia

The Great Molasses Flood of 1919

The Great Molasses Flood of 1919 Notes:

Header Image Source: Photo by Jordane Mathieu on Unsplash

Image Sources:

1919 wreckage under the elevated tracks from Wikipedia Commons

Boston Molasses Disaster from Wikipedia Commons

Boston Daily Globe 1919 Newspaper Headline from Wikipedia Commons

"The Great Molasses Flood, also known as the Boston Molasses Disaster or the Great Boston Molasses Flood, occurred on January 15, 1919 in the North End neighborhood of Boston, Massachusetts. A large storage tank burst, filled with 2,300,000 US gal (8,700 m3)(8,706,447 liters) (ca 12,000 tons; 10,886 metric tons; 24,000,000 lbs) of molasses, and a wave of molasses rushed through the streets at an estimated 35 mph (56 km/h), killing 21 and injuring 150. The event entered local folklore and residents claimed for decades afterwards that the area still smelled of molasses on hot summer days.

The disaster occurred at the Purity Distilling Company facility on January 15, 1919. The temperature had risen above 40 °F (4 °C), climbing rapidly from the frigid temperatures of the preceding days.[5]:91, 95 Molasses can be fermented to produce ethanol, the active ingredient in alcoholic beverages and a key component in munitions. The stored molasses was awaiting transfer to the Purity plant situated between Willow Street and Evereteze Way in Cambridge.

A molasses tank stood at 529 Commercial Street near Keany Square which was 50 ft (15 m) tall and 90 ft (27 m) in diameter and contained as much as 2,300,000 US gal (8,700 m3)(8,706,447 liters); it collapsed at approximately 12:30 pm. Witnesses reported that they felt the ground shake and heard a roar as it collapsed, a long rumble similar to the passing of an elevated train; others reported a tremendous crashing, a deep growling, "a thunderclap-like bang!", and a machine gun-like sound as the rivets shot out of the tank.

Molasses density is about 1.4 tonnes/m3, 40 % more dense than water, so it had a great deal of potential energy. The collapse translated this energy into a wave of molasses 25 ft (8 m) high at its peak, moving at 35 mph (56 km/h). The wave was of sufficient force to drive steel panels of the burst tank against the girders of the adjacent Boston Elevated Railway's Atlantic Avenue structure and tip a streetcar momentarily off the El's tracks. Stephen Puleo describes how nearby buildings were swept off their foundations and crushed. Several blocks were flooded to a depth of 2 to 3 ft (60 to 90 cm). Puleo quotes a Boston Post report:

Molasses, waist deep, covered the street and swirled and bubbled about the wreckage…. Here and there struggled a form—whether it was animal or human being was impossible to tell. Only an upheaval, a thrashing about in the sticky mass, showed where any life was…. Horses died like so many flies on sticky fly-paper. The more they struggled, the deeper in the mess they were ensnared. Human beings—men and women—suffered likewise.

The Boston Globe reported that people "were picked up by a rush of air and hurled many feet." Others had debris hurled at them from the rush of sweet-smelling air. A truck was picked up and hurled into Boston Harbor. After the initial wave, the molasses became viscous, exacerbated by the cold temperatures, trapping those caught in the wave and making it even more difficult to rescue them. About 150 people were injured, and 21 people and several horses were killed. Some were crushed and drowned by the molasses or by the debris that it carried within. The wounded included people, horses, and dogs; coughing fits became one of the most common ailments after the initial blast. Edwards Park wrote of one child's experience in a 1983 article for Smithsonian: Anthony di Stasio, walking homeward with his sisters from the Michelangelo School, was picked up by the wave and carried, tumbling on its crest, almost as though he were surfing. Then he grounded and the molasses rolled him like a pebble as the wave diminished. He heard his mother call his name and couldn't answer, his throat was so clogged with the smothering goo. He passed out, then opened his eyes to find three of his four sisters staring at him.

First to the scene were 116 cadets under the direction of Lieutenant Commander H. J. Copeland from USS Nantucket, a training ship of the Massachusetts Nautical School (now the Massachusetts Maritime Academy) that was docked nearby at the playground pier. They ran several blocks toward the accident and worked to keep the curious from getting in the way of the rescuers, while others entered into the knee-deep, sticky mess to pull out the survivors. The Boston Police, Red Cross, Army, and Navy personnel soon arrived. Some nurses from the Red Cross dove into the molasses, while others tended to the injured, keeping them warm and feeding the exhausted workers. Many of these people worked through the night, and the injured were so numerous that doctors and surgeons set up a makeshift hospital in a nearby building. Rescuers found it difficult to make their way through the syrup to help the victims, and four days elapsed before they stopped searching; many of the dead were so glazed over in molasses that they were hard to recognize. Other victims were swept into Boston Harbor and were found three to four months after the disaster.

Local residents brought a class-action lawsuit against the United States Industrial Alcohol Company (USIA) which had bought Purity Distilling in 1917. It was one of the first class-action suits in Massachusetts and is considered a milestone in paving the way for modern corporate regulation. The company claimed that the tank had been blown up by anarchists:165 because some of the alcohol produced was to be used in making munitions, but a court-appointed auditor found USIA responsible after three years of hearings, and the company ultimately paid out $628,000 in damages[ ($9.08 million in 2018, adjusted for inflation). Relatives of those killed reportedly received around $7,000 per victim (equivalent to $101,000 in 2018).

Cleanup crews used salt water from a fireboat to wash away the molasses and sand to absorb it, and the harbor was brown with molasses until summer. The cleanup in the immediate area took weeks, with several hundred people contributing to the effort, and it took longer to clean the rest of Greater Boston and its suburbs. Rescue workers, cleanup crews, and sight-seers had tracked molasses through the streets and spread it to subway platforms, to the seats inside trains and streetcars, to pay telephone handsets, into homes, and to countless other places. "Everything that a Bostonian touched was sticky..."

— Source: Great Molasses Flood Wikipedia