The SS Princess Sophia
Source: Wikimedia

The busy, bloody years of 1918 and 1919 saw events the echoes of which are still heard 100 years later. From the worst shipwreck on the North American West Coast to a molasses flood, these are the anniversaries you probably did not know about.

Canada’s Titanic

Built for the Canadian Pacific Railway between 1910 and 1911, the SS Princess Sophia was a coastal passenger liner that passed into history as the Unknown Titanic of the West Coast.

On 24 October 1918, the ship struck Vanderbilt Reef in Lynn Canal near Juneau, Territory of Alaska, while sailing from Skagway to Vancouver and Victoria. In addition to the crew, the vessel was carrying city and territory officials, civil servants, businessmen, miners, women, and children. It sank the following day, after rescue efforts were hampered by rough seas, taking the more than 350 people on board with it. In the days that followed, divers found that almost all the watches they recovered from the wreck had stopped at 5.50pm.

German Revolution and Weimar

In October 1918, the German Empire’s constitution was amended to give the elected parliament more authority. It was also a decisive moment in world history.

On the 29th day of the month, sailors in Kiel rebelled, and together with soldiers and workers, elected Soldiers’ and Workers’ councils; something similar to what the Soviets had done during the 1917 Russian Revolution. The revolution spread quickly, and within months, revolutionaries had taken civil and military power. Not one life had been lost. The following year, a constitutional assembly took place in Weimar, ushering in the period known unofficially as the Weimar Republic. Popularly viewed as a cultural renaissance and a period of decadence, it set the stage for the rise to power of one Adolf Hitler.

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Play nowThe Romanov Murders

In July 1918, the Russian Tsar Nicholas II, his wife Tsarina Alexandra, and their children Olga, Tatiana, Maria, Anastasia, and Alexei, as well as their companions, were murdered by Bolshevik troops.

The execution, in which the imperial Romanov family were shot, bayoneted, and clubbed to death, was carried out according to instructions from Lenin, and by order of the Ural Regional Soviet. The bodies were stripped and mutilated before being dumped down a mineshaft, only to be recovered and buried in unmarked graves later. An amateur investigator found one of the graves in 1979, but the discovery was made public only in 1989. Amateur archaeologists found the second grave in 2007. On 20 August 2000, the Russian Orthodox Church declared the family to be saints.

The Great Molasses Flood

On 15 January 1919, a 15m-tall, 27m-wide storage tank filled with 8,700m3 of molasses collapsed near Keany Square in Boston’s North End. An 8m-high wave travelling at 56km/h flooded the streets, damaged elevated railway girders, crushed buildings, flung a truck into the harbour, injured 150 people, and killed 21 men, women, and children.

It took clean-up crews weeks to wash the molasses away using salt water from a fireboat, as well as sand to absorb the liquid. According to reports, the area was coloured brown by molasses for 6 months following the disaster.