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May 23, 2002
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?
I was a student at Fort Hamilton High School in 1965. Because I was active in afterschool clubs, I left school that day late and was standing on 86th Street near Shore Road waiting for the bus when the lights went out. I remember looking across the bay - no lights anywhere and being a child of the cold war who distinctly remembers the "duck and cover" drills in school thinking - "oh god, we're at war." After 10-15 minutes, I started walking up 86th Street towards home in Dyker Heights, hoping that I would get home before the missiles hit the city. I recall people out on their front stoops talking in hushed tones.
When the blackout of 1977 occured, I was 27 and dating a woman who lived in the village. We had a great time - everybody was out on the streets and the entire neighborhood was one big party. The restaurants were literally giving food away before it spoiled in the heat. All the gay boys were out on Christopher Street and the fire hydrant on the corner of Christorpher and Greenwich was open. We had a ball.
Why did the blackouts happen, in your opinion?
I know one was attributed to a lightning strike and the grid going down.
I really don't know.
What is your opinion regarding the general causes of power failures (blackouts)?
Too many people with too many electricity hungry machines going - when it's hot we don't need to freeze in air conditioning to be comfortable.
Did either blackout seem significant or shocking at the time?
Both were significant
Why did you consider the blackout(s) to be significant or insignificant?
The damage done in some neighborhoods and the people who died because of lack of electricity and/or inability of emergency services to reach them in time is always significant. Both blackouts made me reflect on what I take for granted and what I don't, including the 1977 blackout which provided me with a good time only because of the neighborhood I happened to be lucky enough to be in at the time. Even in the midst of the village "party", we - my friends and I - were acutely aware that other parts of the city were in trouble.
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)?
My perception didn't change that dramatically in 1965 - standing on the shoreline of Brooklyn and seeing NYC go black was a real shock and a lasting image. I will never forget thinking I was about to die alone on the street because the only reason I could conceive of that the entire city would go dark like that was the start of a nuclear war. After those kinds of thoughts, well...In '77 the cops in the village were telling us what was going on in other neighborhoods - it was frightening and sad
How would you compare the blackout(s) to "normal" power failures you have experienced at other times?
Very, very different experiences - the blackouts were so huge one didn't have the same kind of hope that it would all be over soon.
What affect, if any, did the blackout(s) have on your opinion of Consolidated Edison Company?
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:
How fragile this thing we've come to call civilization is.
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:
Story #163, The Blackout History Project, 23 May 2002, <http://blackout.gmu.edu/details/163/>.
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