Life Magazine, Vol. 59 No. 2 (19 November 1965).


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Trapped in a Skyscraper

Last Tuesday afternoon several of us were making the final adjustments on a photographic essay closing that evening. To see the story as a whole, the layouts had been placed in a line on the floor and we were hunched over them when the lights went out. We knew it was not a simple blown fuse. From our 29th-floor view we could see that all of New York had inexplicably gone black.

A few minutes later the report came in by transistor radio that the blackout embraced most of the Northeast, and the implications of our predicament dawned on us. Here was an astonishing news story unfolding all around us, and here were we, the New York editorial .phpf, trapped in a skyscraper with no lights, jammed phones and stalled elevators.

Flashlights and candles flickered in the hallways; gropingly, people began to assemble in clusters. Joe Kastner, Chief Copy Editor, lit a candle and finished off the last of the day's copy. Four photographers caught in the building, already were setting up cameras and photographing through the windows the strange new sight of the ghostly city. Fortunately, incoming phone calls were getting through to us, and when Dick Stolley, Washington Bureau Chief, reached us from the capital, we had an invaluable link to the outside. For the next hour Dick Billings, Assistant Picture Editor, kept Stolley on the line, feeding him the names of photographers in New York and the other stricken areas. In turn Stolley relayed the assignments--cover the streets, subways, stations, airports, restaurants, hospitals and hotels. Feeling their way up and down 29 flights of stairs, reporters filtered out over the city and photographers began to bring in their film. By 10 o'clock our color laboratory, using battery power, turned out the first transparencies. Theodore H. White, Pulitzer prize-winning author, an expert on the problems of the city, called in from vacation. "I'm available," he told us. Fed by accounts from our reporters, White's article begins on page 46B.

All through the night the 48-story building, which houses many other companies besides Time Inc. magazines, resembled a disaster area. Torches made from grease pencils (usually used for drawing layouts) lit the corridors until word got around that the smoke was noxious. Five hundred people spent the night in the building. A medical center was set up in the lobby complete with doctor, nurse, technicians and oxygen tank, but only two serious falls occurred in the descent of those stairs. At 3:17 in the morning Ralph Morse, who had taken the first pictures of the blinded city from a 28th-floor window, now began to take the last pictures from the same position. Slowly, during the next 1 1/2 hours, the city came alive again, a blaze of lights here, a blaze there and, as seen on the last color spread of the story, Morse's camera caught the radiant rebirth.

GEORGE P. HUNT, Managing Editor

LIFE, Vol. 59 No. 2 (19 November 1965)
Copyright 1965 Time, Inc.
Photo: George Karas

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jts{27 June 2000}