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1948 mayor to MIT: use flamethrowers to melt snow?

A letter from the MIT archives recalls another super-snowy Boston winter.
Students trek through a snowy MIT campus.
Students trek through a snowy MIT campus.
Photo: Liv Gold

Sixty-three years ago Boston received so much snow that then-Mayor James Curley took a look at it and began pleading with then-MIT President Dr. Karl Compton for help. “I am very desirous that [MIT] have a competent group of engineers make an immediate study as to ways and means of removing the huge accumulation,” he wrote, “…be it by the use of flame throwers or chemicals or otherwise.” The mayor was desperate.

Sound familiar? Current Mayor Thomas Menino said yesterday, “This is relentless; it just doesn’t stop coming.” Indeed, Boston has already received more than 60 inches of snow this winter, some 20 inches more than the seasonal average, and more is on the way. Federal law prevents the city from dumping snow into the Charles River (too many contaminants), so the city is charged with finding ever more places to pile the growing mountains of snow.

An article over the weekend in The New York Times pointed out that other cities, such as Minneapolis, have dealt with this problem by investing in snow dragons, which are pricey machines capable of melting, filtering and safely disposing of 30 tons of snow per hour. According to the Times piece, Boston has rebuffed the idea in the past but is reconsidering. Public Works Commissioner Joanne Massaro says that “any option is on the table.”

Including reaching out to MIT?

“No,” says MIT Facilities Director John DiFava. “We haven’t heard from the mayor’s office.” It’s probably for the best, since the crews are already busy. In the last few weeks, they have been working around the clock to deal with the record snow.

Read the full Slice of MIT post to read more comments from DiFava and the original letter.

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