Inspirational Mess-Making Throughout History

10 accidents, catastrophes, screw-ups, celebrations, and brazen acts of creativity from around the world.


1. AUGUST 8, 1949

The paintings of Jackson Pollock, marked by their unmistakable splatters, drizzles, and streaks, are featured in a four-page spread in Life magazine that asks, “Is Jackson Pollock the greatest living painter in the United States?”

Credit: Joe Figg

“The painting has a life of its own,” Pollock would later say. “I try to let it come through. It is only when I lose contact with the painting that the result is a mess.”

Credit: Paramount Pictures

2. APRIL 30, 1970 — NOVEMBER 19, 1970

Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory films on location in Munich, Germany. According to Wikipedia, “The 2-foot-deep chocolate river and waterfall were created by adding chocolate cream mix to 150,000 US gallons of water, which eventually turned rancid and created a foul odor that permeated the entire soundstage.” The children, excited at first at the sight of the flowing chocolate, soon begin to complain about the conditions on the sound stage.

3. JANUARY 27, 1989

A chewing gum factory explodes when flames from an acetylene torch ignite a cloud of sugar dust. The blast blows out a wall of the building. One might imagine a giant pink bubble expanding, breaking through brick and stud like the Kool-Aid man, but of course the explosion is nothing like that. No employees are hurt.

4. January 10, 1992

28,800 plastic bath toys are lost at sea when container ship Ever Laurel is hit by a storm near the international date line. Twelve shipping containers wash overboard, including one holding an assortment of Floatees: red beavers, green frogs, blue turtles, and yellow ducks. The toys pour into the North Pacific as their container collides with another, puncturing one side.

Credit: unknown

Ten months pass before the first Floatees begin to wash up onshore. They first appear along the Alaskan coastline. Ten Floatees are recovered, but hundreds more follow. The brightly-colored flotsom is eventually distributed across the world, traveling with the currents to Japan, through the Bering Strait (some becoming trapped in the Arctic ice), then onto Canada, New England, and Iceland. A gaggle of yellow plastic ducks made landfall in the United Kingdom in 2007 — clear on the other side of the globe from where their journey began.

Their dispersion throughout the world is hailed by oceanographers as revolutionizing our understanding of ocean currents.

Credit: Icon Images

5. AUGUST 28, 2007

Other-worldly mountains of foam wash ashore along the Australian coast, swallowing beaches, surfers, and nearby buildings.

The phenomenon is caused by salts, chemicals, dead plants, decomposed fish, and seaweed excretions whipped together by a powerful storm off the coast of Queensland, and only occurs once every three decades. The Pacific’s new whipped topping stretches more than thirty miles out to sea before finally dispersing.

Credit: KHOU Houston

6. JULY 18, 2008

A big-rig overturns near the intersection of Highway 6 and Highway 59 in Sugarland, TX, (yes, Sugarland) dumping more than 5,000 gallons of molasses onto the asphalt. Dirt and gravel adhere to the surface of the molasses, and workers are forced to fend off flies by the cloud. Traffic is diverted for nearly eight hours while cleanup crews attempt to clear the sticky mess. Witnesses describe the scene as tar-like and vaguely prehistoric.

7. SEPTEMBER 6, 2010

A 7.1 magnitude earthquake rips through Christchurch, NZ causing over $1.5 billion in damages. In a local glass factory, hundreds of panes of glass shatter, covering the floor in waves of piled shards. Dozens of mirrors are included in the destruction. By some calculations, the earthquake could result in as many as 588 years of bad luck .

8. DECEMBER 24, 2011

A semitrailer in Fort Wayne, IN tips while attempting to enter Interstate 69 via an on-ramp, spilling 40,000 pounds of ice cream. Flavors include vanilla and caramel praline crunch.

9. June 7, 2012

A truck transporting thousands of gallons of pancake syrup swerves to avoid a stalled vehicle and slams into the Buttermilk Pike overpass along I-75 in Kentucky, releasing a slow-moving wave of sticky brown liquid that delays traffic for hours. Cleanup crews complain of difficult working conditions and the tiresome repetition of buttermilk pancake jokes from passing motorists.

10. SEPTEMBER 10, 2012

A thick stream of banded colors runs down a narrow street in Manaus, Brazil after a truck carrying fourteen tons of paint rolls onto its side. Cleanup is delayed for hours as crowds of passersby admire the vibrant new street art — however unintentional its commissioning might have been.

Credit: unknown

11. MARCH 27, 2013

Thick clouds of neon powder hang over the streets of Uttar Pradesh. Holi revelers hurl gulal and brightly-colored water into the air, dying one another a spectrum of pink, orange, green, and purple. It is said the vibrant colors represent energy, joy, and the coming spring. Evidence of the festivities can often be found months later, between the stones of buildings and beneath potted plants.

The Holi tradition has also been appropriated by countless 5k events throughout the United States. After such events, runners can be seen purchasing coffee at Starbucks, other patrons looking up from their Caramel Macchiatos, raising their eyebrows, and pulling in their legs to ensure nothing too colorful brushes against their pants.


Also by Refe and Susan Tuma: What the Dinosaurs Did Last Night (Little, Brown 2014) and What the Dinosaurs Did Last Night: A Very Messy Adventure (LB Young Readers, 2015).

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