Curse of the Narrows, by Laura M. MacDonald
On December 6, 1917, during the middle of World War I, a ship carrying high explosives in Halifax Harbor collided with another ship. Predictably, it exploded.
Unfortunately, a number of factors came into play in the worst possible way, and the explosion obliterated nearly everything within a half mile radius of the ship, including a heavily populated neighborhood of the city. More than 2,000 people were killed and over 9,000 were injured. To add insult to injury, communications lines were knocked out, and a blizzard struck the evening of the explosion, making survival uncertain for those who initially lived through the blast.
It was, simply put, the largest man-made explosion up to that point in time.
Boston, receiving word of the disaster, mobilized its Red Cross contingent immediately and sent a relief train to provide assistance to the people of Halifax. Several other nearby cities did as well, but the Boston relief train was the largest and most well organized, with doctors, nurses, supply coordinators and all sorts of relief supplies.
Rumors of German sabotage pitted people against each other, and sent officials off on wild goose chases to determine if a German bomb or submarine was responsible. Meanwhile the people of Halifax struggled with horrific and long-term injuries, lack of housing in the middle of winter, and the sad process of identifying and burying the dead.
The book details the day leading up to the explosion, and the stories of the people who lived and died in its aftermath. Historical records research and first hand accounts provide grim detail of the experience, and MacDonald weaves the stories together into the larger narrative. She does not shy away from the gruesome details of victims injuries, the trauma of separating families, and the legal battle after the initial relief effort ended.
My only criticism of the book is that it is rather poorly edited, with numerous typos and grammar errors, but that doesn’t take away from the story as a whole. It is a well researched and well written book on an event that was once widely known, but has been largely forgotten to time.