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August 6, 1999
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?
Coincidentally, my wife and I were up on the roof of our apartment building looking at the view when the lights went out. Imagine looking over Manhattan from Morningside Heights (we were living at 120th and Amsterdam) and suddenly the city going dark. Initially the lights were out for less than a minute, then they came back on - the whole city being relit section by section as if by someone was simply flipping a switch. Seconds later, it was dark again, and cheers began to rise from Harlem lying below us.
The lights of New Jersey across the Hudson illuminated the western skies -- for a short time, New Jersey had some impact over Manhattan!
The darkness was accompanied by a surprising quiet for a few minutes. I suppose a/c units had died diminishing the background white noise of the city. Traffic horns blared - exuberance and intersection chaos combined. Then alarms and sirens.
We gingerly descended the stairs to our apartment and eventually fell asleep, not knowing or imagining the looting going on on the streets around us.
The next morning, still no electricity, I went down to listen to the car radio as we had no battery portable, and learned of the extent of the problem.
No work that day...so we walked down Amsterdam to the Hungarian Pastry Shop where they were anxious to sell their unrefrigerated pastries and room temperature sodas (no coffee!). Then we hung out in Riverside Park and chatted with other survivors!
I think everything got back to normal later that day...another event survived in NYC!
Why did the blackouts happen, in your opinion?
What is your opinion regarding the general causes of power failures (blackouts)?
Electricity is a commodity we have learned to overuse and waste. The systems are generally under prepared for our demands.
Did either blackout seem significant or shocking at the time?
Why did you consider the blackout(s) to be significant or insignificant?
Who would have imagined the entire city and surrounding boroughs going dark in an instant. So many systems were (and still are) totally dependent on electricity.
How did the blackout(s) affect you?
A day off work plus the general surprise that this could happen in NYC.
What happened to your perception of the blackout(s) when you heard the news about the full scope of the event(s)?
It increased the feeling that we were involved in a memorable event. Somewhere I still have a copy of the NY Times from that day.
How would you compare the blackout(s) to "normal" power failures you have experienced at other times?
Bigger, more widespread. Others have been more personally inconveniencing. Living in homes since in the country with wells and septic systems requiring electricity.
What affect, if any, did the blackout(s) have on your opinion of Consolidated Edison Company?
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?
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 #2, The Blackout History Project, 6 August 1999, <http://blackout.gmu.edu/details/2/>.
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