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March 12, 2001
Which blackout(s) did you experience?
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?
During the 1965 blackout, I was a 18 year old theatre usherette, ushering at Man of La Mancha at the downtown ANTA Theatre near Washington Square. At the time of the blackout I was visiting the aunt of a friend. She happened to live in an old tenement on 3rd ave and 11th street. It was a very old, old tenament (the lower east side had not become the trendy East Village yet). She had blown a lightbulb in her livingroom and was up on a step-stool changing bulbs when all the lights went out. "Uh oh", I said, "Josie, you blew the lights in the apartment. Open the door and get some light from the outside hallway." When she opened the front door, there were no lights there either. "Josie!" I exclaimed, "You blew the building!!" Then we looked outside. "JOOOSSSIIIEEE!!! What did you do????..."
Why did the blackouts happen, in your opinion?
Someone pulled a plug by mistake.
What is your opinion regarding the general causes of power failures (blackouts)?
Not enough power stations and no one willing to put them in their backyard. NIMBY. (but of course, not in MINE!).
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?
I was a kid. It was great fun. I got out of work for the night and got to walk home in the dark with my boyfriend. How romantic.
How did the blackout(s) affect you?
By the time the second one occurred, I was married and went up on the roof of the apartment building in Chelsea where I was living. All the neighbors came up. Some friends stopped by. It was facinating to see the civilians directing traffic. Since my husband and I were safe and we didn't own a car...it was a lot of fun.
What happened to your perception of the blackout(s) when you heard the news about the full scope of the event(s)?
Nothing new. This is NYC. Now it's happening in LA. We went through muggings, blizzards, car thefts, Son of Sam and so much else. The blackouts were fun compared to some of the other horrors this city has seen.
How would you compare the blackout(s) to "normal" power failures you have experienced at other times?
Brownouts are more insidious. You're never sure if its a brownout or your eyes are going bad! And you not sure if it's something you've done causing the AC to be blowing hot air or not. Blackouts are definitive. And you know they'll eventually be fixed. Ever work in an office during a "brownout" or when the electricity flickers and you loose everything on your computer? We are much more dependent on electricity than we were in the last 2 blackouts.
What affect, if any, did the blackout(s) have on your opinion of Consolidated Edison Company?
No change. They are were a monopoly then and they still are. But if we deregulate electricity, we'll end up in the same mess the phone companies put us in. More choices...but more ways to be cheated! You need a PHD to understand phone companies policies now and even then, you miss one line of small print and you're taken advantage of.
If you experienced both the 1965 and 1977 blackouts, please compare them (describe the ways in which they were similar/different):
I think the city was much more afraid in 1965. We were not that far away from the "bomb" and the Bay of Pigs scare. I know I was a bit frightened that something more sinister was happening. Since I was not involved in subway or car problems in either blackout, I was not as concerned about that. I just wanted to make sure I died in my own bed. I grew up in the 50's expecting the bomb to fall any minute so I just went back to that mind set.
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?
Became more reliant
If other, please specify:
Slowly, as technology expanded, we have become more and more reliant on technology. If we had a blackout right now, all this typing I've been doing would be lost and I sure wouldn't redo it. This is a lot of work!
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:
Between 1965 and 1977 NYC became a sesspool. The crime rate jumped, the homeless and beggers grew, and no one was doing anything about it. I moved out of Manhattan in 1978 to Queens, which was a "bit" more civilized. Now I regret having given up my apartment in Manhattan, but who knew it would turn around this way. The thing that changed between 1965 and 1977 was drug use increased. That messed up everyone.
Story #134, The Blackout History Project, 12 March 2001, <http://blackout.gmu.edu/details/134/>.
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