For Easter, we shared the story of the military’s war on the Easter Bunny and good-tasting candy, and the role played by Brooklyn’s Rockwood & Company in World War II. In the course of researching that story, we came across another from 1919: The Great Rockwood Chocolate Flood, which occurred 100 years ago today.
At this time Rockwood was already one of the largest chocolatiers in the country, rivaled only by Hershey’s. Relocated to the former Von Glahn Brothers warehouse on Park Ave and Washington Ave in 1904, Rockwood built an enormous expansion in 1910 to take up the entire block on Park. This was followed by another spanning the block from Washington Ave to Waverly Ave in 1917.
In the early morning of May 12, 1919, a fire broke out in the shipping department at 43 Waverly Ave. As firefighters plied water onto the fire, raw cocoa and cocoa butter was sluiced out of the building, creating a river of chocolate that flowed downhill onto Flushing Ave. This chocolate then collected in the storm drains, stopping them up and flooding the street with this watery chocolate mixture.
The sight and smell of a literal chocolate river attracted, as the Brooklyn Daily Eagle put it, “a thousand and one urchins,” as children rushed to the scene to lap up the chocolate. This article is so fantastic (rivaling even the best article of all time) that I just want to quote the whole thing verbatim, but here are a few of the choice lines:
“It flowed through the street like molten lava with a foamy cap of white formed by the sugar and butter that rose.”
“Little fellows fell on their knees before the oncoming flood and dipped it up greedily with their grimy fingers.”
“Chocolate-gorged truants, some with far-away looks in their eyes, were hauled off to school.”
“Here ended the episode that will go down in the anthology of Fudge River as the greatest little fire that ever occurred in Brooklyn.”
The fire ultimately caused about $75,000 of damage to the building, and one firefighter was injured. While not as dramatic as the 1814 London Beer Flood, or as deadly as the 1919 Boston Molasses Flood, this was certainly a day that all of those children remembered fondly for the rest of their lives.
Brooklyn Navy Yard Tours
Turnstile Tours offers Tours of the Brooklyn Navy Yard every weekend, including theme-based tours on architecture, urban ecology, manufacturing, and history. All tours are offered in partnership with and begin at the Brooklyn Navy Yard Center at BLDG 92, which offers free admission to three floors of exhibitions on the Yard’s past and present, and a host of special events and programs.