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Contributed by: Evelyn L. Kraus
Contributed on: September 7, 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?
The 1965 Blackout remains vividly in my mind because it cemented a friendship which still exists to this day. I was a young reference librarian at Columbia University with a third floor apartment two blocks from the library. A colleague, more junior than myself, had just started work and commuted each day from her parents' home in Brooklyn. She had agreed to have dinner with me at my home and suddenly, no power and an eerie black city outside the windows. Fortunately, I loved candles and managed to find both them and the matches. We then tried to call Brooklyn but the phone was as dead as could be. However luck or should I say romance was on our side. The very night before I had been at a party and met Mr. Tall-Dark and Handsome. My phone rang! Although he was only twenty blocks away he had service and called to see if I was all right. Somehow my phone was able to receive calls but not make them. The first thing I asked after assuring him that I hadn't been attacked on the way home or stuck in the elevator was to please call my friend's very protective parents to assure them all was well. After some sort of concocted supper of mainly whatever the refrigerator had to offer plus a lot of wine we both had candlelight showers and went to sleep looking forward to the the sunrise.

The 1977 Blackout was quite a different kind of experience. One month before I had given birth to my second daughter and my husband and I signed a lease on a larger apartment. Our moving date was July 15, 1977! Everything was ready to go except suddenly no elevators. We had actually scheduled two days for the move thinking to get blinds up and air conditioners in before arriving. It never happened. Thanks to a team of brawny and very willing movers who worked for about 15 hours straight to get it all done before Saturday (no moveins on Saturday on Park Avenue!) we did it. A kind neighbor warehoused our baby in her airconditioned living room giving me a chance to escape the outdoor heatwave while nursing. Somehow we got through that first weekend in our new home with a lot of cold baths and sheets on the the westward facing windows.

Both blackouts were chances to test our coping skills and also made us realize how fragile our technologically motored conveniences really are.

In both cases

Why did the blackouts happen, in your opinion?
It's hard to remember now but I think in 1977 the electrical power suppliers had not kept up with the growing demand while in 1965 it was a technical problem.

What is your opinion regarding the general causes of power failures (blackouts)?
Not keeping up with the growing demand. In New York City especially there are more appliances, computers, cooling systems, high rise buildings, all of which increase elctrical usage.

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?
They disrupted the flow of our lives and made us realize how truly fragile our urban infrastructure is.

How did the blackout(s) affect you?
Except for philosophical thoughts like the above and some inconvenience neither created a major change in my life.

What happened to your perception of the blackout(s) when you heard the news about the full scope of the event(s)?
1965 - I was heartened to hear the popele had been son nice to each others.

1977- I was disturbed by the violence, possibly to some degree provoked by the heat, but more likely at that time brought on by some real social problems that needed attention.

How would you compare the blackout(s) to "normal" power failures you have experienced at other times?
Normal power failures are usually of much shorter duration and can be repaired from within. One feels a greater sense of control.

What affect, if any, did the blackout(s) have on your opinion of Consolidated Edison Company?
Thought they had droopped th plannig ball.

If you experienced both the 1965 and 1977 blackouts, please compare them (describe the ways in which they were similar/different):
Covered by answers above.

Did the blackout(s) have any larger meaning in your mind?
Yes (please explain)

If yes, please explain:
Covered above

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. Self evident. 1977 reflects worse economic times.

Cite as: Evelyn L. Kraus, Story #184, The Blackout History Project, 7 September 2002, <http://blackout.gmu.edu/details/184/>.
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