History Book


NICK EICHER, HOST: Today is Monday, January 14th. Thank you for turning to WORLD Radio to help start your day. Good morning. I’m Nick Eicher.

MARY REICHARD, HOST: And I’m Mary Reichard. Coming next on The World and Everything in It: the WORLD Radio History Book.  

President Dwight Eisenhower bids farewell to the nation. Plus, 35 years ago this week, the International Olympic Committee reinstates Native American athlete Jim Thorpe’s olympic medals.

EICHER: But first, 100 years ago, a deadly industrial accident in Boston—a tsunami of syrup.

Here’s Paul Butler.

PAUL BUTLER, REPORTER: We begin today on the afternoon of January 15th, 1919, in the north end of Boston, near the waterfront. Here, the Purity Distilling Company owns a 2.3 million gallon holding tank, full of molasses. It’s used to produce rum and industrial alcohol, a key component in explosives manufacturing.

The tank was poorly constructed, had leaked for months, and was recently filled to capacity. Historian Stephen Puleo, author of Dark Tide, picks up the story:

PUELO: When patrolman Kevin McManus of the Boston Police Department is making his routine call on his call box, back to headquarters—when he hears this rat-tat-tat of a machine gun and sees this gigantic molasses tank disintegrating before his eyes. The rat-tat-tat being the pull of the rivets, thousands of rivets shooting out of this tank.

Audio from a 2003 C-SPAN broadcast. The 20-foot wave of molasses moves through the Italian immigrant community with alarming speed, nearly 35 miles an hour. In the end, the Boston Molasses Flood claims 21 lives and injures more than 150.

Local lore says that even yet today, during hot weather, you can just catch a whiff of sweet molasses in north-end Boston.

MUSIC: [MOLASSES FLOOD SONG, JONATHAN JAY]

Next, January 17th, 1961:

EISENHOWER: Three days from now, I shall lay down the responsibilities of office…

U.S. President Dwight D. Eisenhower delivers a 15-minute televised farewell address to the nation:

EISENHOWER: America is today the strongest, the most influential and most productive nation in the world…

Eisenhower argues for keeping a strong military, yet warns against the unchecked accumulation of power. He also discourages against deficit spending and the impulse to live “only for today.”

EISENHOWER: We cannot mortgage the material assets of our grandchildren without risking the loss also of their political and spiritual heritage…

The president concludes his speech with a word for the nations of the world:

EISENHOWER: We pray that all who yearn for freedom may experience its spiritual blessings; and that the scourges of poverty, disease and ignorance will be made to disappear from the earth. Thank you, and good night.

And finally, January 18th, 1983. Seventy years after stripping Native American Olympian Jim Thorpe of his medals, the International Olympic Committee restores them to his family.

THORPE: I wish dad could have seen those medals. I think it would have been a great thrill for him…

His daughter Grace appeared in a 2000 documentary by Ewen Thompson. Thorpe was a member of the Sac and Fox Nation, born in Oklahoma. He played collegiate football and baseball. He joined the 1912 American olympic team as a track star, going on to become the only olympian in history to compete in seventeen different events.

He won two gold medals, and recognition prizes from both the king of Sweden and the Russian czar. He returned home to ticker-tape parades and great notoriety.

In 1913, the IOC struck Thorpe’s olympic records and repossessed his medals after a Massachusetts newspaper discovered Thorpe played two years with a minor league baseball team before the olympics—making him a professional athlete. He appealed the decision, but lost.

Thorpe went on to enjoy a hall of fame football career, but he also played professional baseball and basketball. Despite his later professional sport successes, Thorpe died broke in 1953.

22 years later, President Gerald Ford and the Congress appealed to the IOC to restore Thorpe’s medals, but they were turned down. In 1982, the U.S. Congress passed a second resolution, calling again on the Olympic Committee to “officially recognize Jim Thorpe’s achievements in the 1912 Olympics and restore [his] records to the official Olympic books.”

MUSIC: [OLYMPIC THEME]

This time, the IOC listened, and the Executive Board changed Thorpe’s official status to amateur and listed him as co-winner of the events in the record books. They later presented replicas of Thorpe’s medals to his surviving children.

That’s this week’s WORLD Radio History Book, I’m Paul Butler.


(Photo/Public domain)

WORLD Radio transcripts are created on a rush deadline. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of WORLD Radio programming is the audio record.

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