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November 11, 2000
Which blackout(s) did you experience?
1965 (Great Northeast Blackout)
In your own words, tell the story of your experience in the blackout(s). Try to recall specific events and the people, places, and things involved; also include more general reactions, images adn last impressions?
I was only 5 years old on the night of the Great Northeast Blackout of 1965 but I remember it so vividly because that was the night my house burned down. I lived in Georgetown, Massachusetts. It had been a bad day for my mother. My uncle was on his way through town that night and would be stopping at our house for dinner so she was cooking blueberry pie, but it had collapsed in the oven. My 3 year old brother awoke from his afternoon nap with a stomach flu. Things were just not going well that day. While my mother was getting dressed and trying to attend to my sick brother my uncle showed up early. With my mother and brother in the bedroom, dinner cooking on the stove and my father not yet home from work, I was left to entertain my uncle in the livingroom. All of a sudden the lights started to flicker. I remember them dimming, then brightening more than once and my mother calling from the bedroom to ask what was going on. Finally they went out. My uncle went to his car for a flashlight but was having trouble finding one. It was some time before my father arrived and I remember being very relieved that he was home. He could take care of this problem. His headlights pierced the darkness so brightly as he drove in the garage beneath my bedroom window. He had been in the grocery store when the lights went out and he was forced to leave his shopping cart in the aisle because he could not see. Since we had an electric stove dinner was now out of the question, so my uncle went on his way. My grandparents lived about 20 minutes away in Topsfield and they had a gas stove so my father called, made the arrangements, turned off all the burners on our stove and we were on our way to grandmas for dinner. In fact, it was grandma's 57th birthday that day. Keeping with the day's unlucky theme, my grandfather choked that night on a piece of steak and we might have lost him but for a strong whack on the back from grandma. Eventually the lights came back on but we stayed a while longer before my brother and I were bundled in our snowsuits for the 20 minute drive home. When we pulled into the driveway my father got out of our blue 1956 VW to open the garage door. Instead of returning to the car he ran across the garage and into the house. My mother suddenly shouted "there's a fire" and jumped out of the car and ran across the street. I thought she meant at the neighbor's house, but she had actually gone to pull the fire alarm on the telephone pole across from our house. What happened next is a bit of a blurr as my brother and I sat in the back seat of the car with firemen, hoses and chaos all around us. A lady who I didn't know stuck her head in the car window and said "are you kids alright?" I said we were and I asked what was happening but she wouldn't tell us. My mother had run in the house as well, telling us on the way to stay in the car and not get out. After what seemed like hours but was probably not more than a few minutes my mother returned. It was hard to understand the whole story when I first heard it but I gradually came to make sense of it all. When my parents turned off all the burners on the stove, instead they accidently turned one on. On that burner sat a kettle of oil in which my mother was going to make french fries. When the power came back on an hour or more before we returned home, the oil boiled, spilled over and caught on fire. The kitchen suffered the most severe damage but the rest of the house was covered by black oily soot that required everything in the house to be replaced. I remember my father describing the white rectangle under the pillow when he lifted it off my bed. We spent the next few days at my grandmother's house and the next few weeks in an apartment down the street while my parents tried to salvage anything that was left. It took me many days before I could get up the courage to go back into the house. While I was curious to see how it looked I was very scared of what I was going to see. For our family, the 1965 blackout is a night we will all never, ever forget.
Did either blackout seem significant or shocking at the time?
Neither was significant
Why did you consider the blackout(s) to be significant or insignificant?
It seemed our lights were often flickering in those days and often went out. In fact, it seemed it had been happening quite a bit prior to the 1965 blackout so at the time I didn't think much of it.
How did the blackout(s) affect you?
What happened to your perception of the blackout(s) when you heard the news about the full scope of the event(s)?
Too young to appreciate it at the time.
How would you compare the blackout(s) to "normal" power failures you have experienced at other times?
No different except for the consequences.
Did the blackout(s) have any larger meaning in your mind?
Did the blackout(s) cause any profound crisis?
Yes (please explain)
If yes, please explain:
How did the blackout(s) affect your daily reliance on electricity?
No effect / same reliance
Story #122, The Blackout History Project, 11 November 2000, <http://blackout.gmu.edu/details/122/>.
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