<< Return to prior page
December 15, 2000
Which blackout(s) did you experience?
1977 (New York City 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?
In 1977, I was a college student taking 6 credits during summer semester at Baruch college. I was at the Computer Lab, which I believe was the 4th floor of 360 Park Avenue South. I had an assignement which was really giving me problems. I was trying to debug a program, and couldn't get it to work right. I realized it was getting late. I decided to try to run the program one more time, and then go home.
The computer lab featured a mainframe computer which read punch cards. I worked on my program at the Holorith punch machine, which was like a typewriter. I put my deck of cards into the reader and pushed the button. The computer starting reading the cards and then suddenly, everything went black.
I remember thinking to myself, "Great, I just blew out every light on the floor". Some authority figure, I couldn't see who, told us we must leave the building. We all filed down the stairs of the dark building. When I got to the street, I discovered that the lights were out everywhere, and I thought I had caused it all.
I walked in the pitch black all the way to 42nd Street. There I found a daredevil taxi driver, who took me back to my home in Sunnyside, Queens for only $10.00. Considering the emergency, he was a saint, as he could have commanded a much higher price.
Why did the blackouts happen, in your opinion?
When I finally got batteries in my portable radio, I learned that Con Edison was calling the blackout "an act of God".
What is your opinion regarding the general causes of power failures (blackouts)?
Supply and Demand. The system was never made for everyone to use power all at once.
Did either blackout seem significant or shocking at the time?
Why did you consider the blackout(s) to be significant or insignificant?
My family was out of the country in Europe, and I was alone in the dark for a very long time.
How did the blackout(s) affect you?
Sometimes, I wonder if it didn't make me a little more cynical about human nature than I otherwise would have been. I was always very upset about the looting that went on by people who took advantage of the darkness to steal from stores.
What happened to your perception of the blackout(s) when you heard the news about the full scope of the event(s)?
There was no looting going on in my immediate neighborhood, so when I heard about what was going on in Manhattan, I took it as further evidence that Manhattan was a dangerous place where people would take advantage of you any way they could.
How would you compare the blackout(s) to "normal" power failures you have experienced at other times?
The scale is so vastly different. Also a blackout is a communal experience. I could hear people leaving their houses to gather in the street and talk things over.
What affect, if any, did the blackout(s) have on your opinion of Consolidated Edison Company?
Did the blackout(s) have any larger meaning in your mind?
Did the blackout(s) cause any profound crisis?
How did the blackout(s) affect your daily reliance on electricity?
No effect / same reliance
This is how the story goes: In November of 1965 the lights went out in New York and crime rates temporarily dropped; there were widespread reports of extraordinary cooperation and trust between strangers caught together in the power failure. In July of 1977, little more than a decade later, the lights went out again in New York. This time, a devastating wave of looting and arson broke out. Does this story ring true to you? Explain why or why not:
Yes, it sounds true. New York City is no longer one city--it is divided by many factores, wealth, race, etc.
Story #123, The Blackout History Project, 15 December 2000, <http://blackout.gmu.edu/details/123/>.
<< Return to prior page