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September 1, 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 living in Grace Paley's apartment for the summer with some other kids from Sarah Lawrence. I remember I was doing some paperwork in the kitchen when the lights went out. My first thought was about the food for dinner -- I hoped it wouldn't spoil. But it did, of course. It was so hot out -- at least 90 degrees, and the fans went off.
After a while we realized that this was going to go on for a long, long time. After the power didn't go on the next day, it was like a party in Greenwich Villiage. Restaurants were serving whatever food they could, mostly beer, lighting tables by candlelight, and people were singing in the streets.
Why did the blackouts happen, in your opinion?
I actually have no idea.
What is your opinion regarding the general causes of power failures (blackouts)?
Insufficient juice in the grids; manipulation by some power-related cabal; or something blowing up.
Did either blackout seem significant or shocking at the time?
Why did you consider the blackout(s) to be significant or insignificant?
I was aware that in some sections of the city there was anarchy. Since there was always anarchy in the Village, the power black out was more amusing than dangerous, for the time it lasted. All business ground to a halt. People were stuck in elevators. Hospitals had to cancel all but emergency operations. Food was spoiled.
How did the blackout(s) affect you?
Ah, youth. It was a romantic party. New York was dark at night. The stars came out. Good will prevaled among the young in the village. We danced, we laughed.
What happened to your perception of the blackout(s) when you heard the news about the full scope of the event(s)?
For some -- the riots. While I had a grand old time, others were stuck in elevators for the whole episode. It was hot. People were sick in hospitals with no electricity. It was not fun.
How would you compare the blackout(s) to "normal" power failures you have experienced at other times?
It was a transforming experience for the city. What is New York without light and electricity? The humblest village in India would be more sufficient than we were. And this was before computers were everywhere!
What affect, if any, did the blackout(s) have on your opinion of Consolidated Edison Company?
I was too inexperienced to know that this was totally unusual. I come from the south. Hurricanes frequently cause this disruption in the summer. In Florida during a hurricane, water pours in through the windows and under the doors. The roof blows off and sting rays swim into your yard. The lack of electricity by itself didn't seem all that life-threatening at the time.
If you experienced both the 1965 and 1977 blackouts, please compare them (describe the ways in which they were similar/different):
Did the blackout(s) have any larger meaning in your mind?
Yes (please explain)
If yes, please explain:
Only in that it serves as a marker in time for me. I remember college. I remember that summer. I remember all the meat we had to throw out, and I remember the fun we had in our habitual bar, singing songs with strangers, applauding the ice-truck from New Jersey. The ingenuity of the cook at the bar, heating food with Sterno. The free, un-New York feeling in the streets, with thousands walking around, volunteering at the street corners to direct traffic through the unlighted intersections. The uncommon courtesy.
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:
I heard of looting but that was not where I was. Where I was thre was courtesy and cooperation.
Story #146, The Blackout History Project, 1 September 2001, <http://blackout.gmu.edu/details/146/>.
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