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August 15, 2001
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?
I was 11 years old at the time...a skinny young Afro-American boy just returning home from playing outside with my friends. 5 minutes after stepping off of the elevator on the 4th floor of a 6-story tenemant on Linden Street between Bushwick Avenue and Broadway, the lights went out.
My mom and I looked out the window to ensure that it wasn't the fuse in the apartment that blew. It was dead silence outside for 30 seconds as the people of the neighborhood tried to comprehend what was happening. Suddenly, someone shouted "BLACKOUT" and that's when the people of the streets went wild.
There were so much hollering, cheers of joy and laughter as many of the young men and teenagers ran down the street towards Broadway and began what I found out the next day to be looting.
My mom was a bit worried because my four older brothers were still outside. She and I watched as herds of people can be seen running away from Broadway carrying all sorts of merchandise in all shapes and forms. The largest items I've seen being carried down the street was a refrigerator and what looked like a washing machine.
It wasn't long before dozens of patrol cars zoomed down Linden, going the wrong way on a one-way street. Several minutes later, my brothers finally came home...but not emptied handed. One had a box of house-slippers, the other had three boxes of the board game "Mouse Trap," the other two were carrying anything. My mom thought her sons had lost their minds. However, she knew it was too dangerous for them to return to the chaotic Linden Street.
We all peered out the windows again to see cops arresting people, patrol cars driving on the sidewalk, smashing into tin garbage cans. The whole scene was scary but intriguing and lasted for hours.
Why did the blackouts happen, in your opinion?
An overload of the city's electrical system to a demanding over-populated town.
What is your opinion regarding the general causes of power failures (blackouts)?
An overload of power stations.
Did either blackout seem significant or shocking at the time?
Why did you consider the blackout(s) to be significant or insignificant?
It changed the whole Bushwick neighborhood. Broadway was never the same. About a week later, dozens of the stores on Broadway burned down, including the neighborhood supermarket Bohack's.Most of the stores were set by the owners. It took almost 23 years for Broadway to rebound and to this day, it hasn't totally developed into a merchant strip. I visited Broadway two months ago and there is still a long way to go before Broadway will become a busy shopping area as it was before the 1977 blackout.
How did the blackout(s) affect you?
I'm relunctant to move into an apartment where I have to rely on the elevator. I'm a bit claustrophobic and the mere thought of being trapped in an elevator during a blackout sends chills up my spine.The blackout also made me realize how vunerable a neighborhood becomes when such a disaster occurs.
What happened to your perception of the blackout(s) when you heard the news about the full scope of the event(s)?
I was shocked and disappointed. I still can't understand why anyone would want to loot and destroy the stores that serve their neighborhood. My mom had to travel a great distance to find the closest operating supermarket.
How would you compare the blackout(s) to "normal" power failures you have experienced at other times?
I now live in Virginia and occasionally we will experience power failures due to severe storms but luckily the power is restore within an hour and all is well.
What affect, if any, did the blackout(s) have on your opinion of Consolidated Edison Company?
None. I believe the population in NYC grew too fast for Con Ed to meet the city's demand.
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:
It literally destroyed many neighborhoods.
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...I can't say much about the 1965 blackout since I wasn't born at the time but as far as 1977, I witnessed the looting and arson.
Story #145, The Blackout History Project, 15 August 2001, <http://blackout.gmu.edu/details/145/>.
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