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Contributed by: M. Seaman
Contributed on: December 5, 2009

Which blackout(s) did you experience?
1965 (Great Northeast 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?
It was shortly after my 9th birthday. I was in the 4th grade of PS 77 in the Bronx. My favorite after school activity at the time was riding my bike around the neighborhood. That evening in '65 I remember well as so many of us often recounted memories for the question "where were you when the lights went out?"

I was riding my bikes with a friend, heading toward our block and home for dinner. We were singing Beatle songs as we rode up from Westchester avenue which was always well lit from the above ground subway platforms and stores, as well as cars. Suddenly it seemed darker than usual. As we headed up the side street I remember saying "Isn't it really dark all of a sudden?" and my friend agreed. She seeemed nervous about it but I just thought it was unusual.

My friend lived closer to the avenue, so we said goodnight. When I got to my familys place it was VERY dark! There was a lot of commotion from the hallway and when my mother opened the door she said "Oh good, everyone is here now, except for Dad." She told me that no one had lights or electricity and they had heard that it was that way all over the city. We needed to get some candles but she wanted us all to stay together. My father usually came home from Manhattan by subway several hours later.

I remember heading back down to the avenue with entire large family in tow. The local "Bodega" grocery owner was standing in the doorway...selling ONLY candles and other emergency items, but not letting anyone INSIDE the store! The atmosphere seemed generally helpful. My Mom was wondering if my Dad might be stuck in an elevator or something, and was talking with others about such things. We had a generally peaceful night but heard stories of people guarding there places with guns.

When my Dad told the story of his experience in Manhattan, he talked about how helpful people who would usually ignore one another were being. Most people in his office building were trying to help others, such as those stuck in the elevators and scared... He grew up in New York, and said sometimes a crisis draws people together!

Why did the blackouts happen, in your opinion?
Lots of people said it was just human error and it showed what the wrong action of pressing the wrong button could do. I was pretty young but think people were scared of the relatively new technology of the Atom bomb etc.

What is your opinion regarding the general causes of power failures (blackouts)?
Overloaded electric lines?

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 demonstrated how people behaved in crisis. Our society had changed...and many peoples responses also changed.

How did the blackout(s) affect you?
It was just interesting and a little exciting to live through and share stories about.

What happened to your perception of the blackout(s) when you heard the news about the full scope of the event(s)?
I didn't realize how vast an area was "blacked out" for many, many years! I did more fully realize even during the time how VERY dependant we were on electric power!

How would you compare the blackout(s) to "normal" power failures you have experienced at other times?
No comparison. These were VASTLY SHARED experience, with a VASTLY wide range of consequences.

What affect, if any, did the blackout(s) have on your opinion of Consolidated Edison Company?
I didn't know if they were at fault...so none.

If you experienced both the 1965 and 1977 blackouts, please compare them (describe the ways in which they were similar/different):
I was only in the 1965 black out. Many people in my family were in both and of course the news of looting and such made it different, but the less heard stories still showed people helping one another out.

Did the blackout(s) have any larger meaning in your mind?
No

Did the blackout(s) cause any profound crisis?
No

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:
It rings true because I experienced the first one, and much of my family (and the news) showed a very different scenario of the second one.

Cite as: M. Seaman, Story #2176, The Blackout History Project, 5 December 2009, <http://blackout.gmu.edu/details/2176/>.
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