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Contributed by: Alan Aron, CPA
Contributed on: November 10, 2010

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?
I was a junior at Stuyvesant High School in New York City. I was a member of the school's Intramural Bowling Club that met at a bowling alley on 14th Street between Avenues B & C in what is called "The East Village". I had a subway pass, that was not valid on buses.

My mom gave me the busfare so that I wouldn't have to walk to First Avenue and wait for the 14th Crosstown Subway, then known as the "Canarsie Line", now known as the "L" train. I was able to take the bus over the Union Square and get the Lexington Avenue Express up to Grand Central where I would change to the Flushing Line (now the 7 train". I get down to the platform and just missed the local that I needed.

I waited for that train to pull out. An express pulled in behind it, loaded up and left. While waiting for my local to come in, a train on the opposite track headed for Times Square, had all its lights go out. I figures that it was a mechanical problem with that equipment.

The headlights of my local were now visible, but there were no interior lights and the train was coasting downhill into the station. The doors opened and I found a seat. While all this was going on, there was light on the platform. All of a sudden the lights in the station went out. About 10 minutes later we were ordered off the train. Fortunately the smokers used their lighters so that we had some illumination to get to the street.

I figured that if I walked to 5th Avenue, I could get a bus to go home. Unfortunately every bus was so filled it was leaning to the right. I then got an idea that I should go across Fifth Avenue (which was still two way for several more months) and get on a South bound bus to the end of the line and eventually I got home.

The driver made an announcement that he was going to make limited stops so he could get back to Manhattan to pick up more passengers. He stopped 4 blocks further away than usual. It wasn't a problem since there was a full moon and plenty of light. As soon as I walked into my apartment house, I was greeted by two fathers sitting on a couch in the lobby with baseball bats in their hands. "Who are you" they demanded to know. I said Alan. They said get upstairs your mother is worried.

I got upstairs and got a big hug. She then called my uncle in the Bronx to tell him of my safe arrival. He asked why I didn't call. I responded that since there was no power I thought the pay phones were out. I learned he was willing to come to Manhattan from the Bronx to get me home.

Funny coda to this story. I am now a member of the Shoreline Trolley Museum in East Haven Connecticut. In chatting with one of my buddies, he told me that he was on the local that I had just missed. The motorman sensing trouble pushed that train up a steep incline and got the first two cars into the Vernon Jackson Station, so that the people could walk through the train to the platform and not have to walk along dirty catwalks.

What is your opinion regarding the general causes of power failures (blackouts)?
Lack of maintenance and upgrades for additional demands

Did either blackout seem significant or shocking at the time?
1965 only

Why did you consider the blackout(s) to be significant or insignificant?
The 1965 blackout was the first one I had ever experienced. I was living in Suffolk County in 1977 and we were unaffected by that blackout.

How did the blackout(s) affect you?
It was an adventure and if memory serves, schools were closed the next day.

What happened to your perception of the blackout(s) when you heard the news about the full scope of the event(s)?
I couldn't believe that one little mistake could cause so much damage.

How would you compare the blackout(s) to "normal" power failures you have experienced at other times?
It was the first one I ever experienced. Now with batteries and cell phones it's an annoyance, not an event.

What affect, if any, did the blackout(s) have on your opinion of Consolidated Edison Company?
Didn't have an opinion, because at 15 you don't pay the electric bill or (in most cases) have stock in the 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:
Yes, because society in general is less civil to each other. Also as a result of the riots in the the 1960's in Watts, NY and other places, some people is great to pillage and plunder. However they didn't realize that they could be putting the storekeepers out of business, in an area where these merchants would give you credit. With them gone, then whose is there to sell you food, let alone give you the items on credit?

Cite as: Alan Aron, CPA, Story #2185, The Blackout History Project, 10 November 2010, <http://blackout.gmu.edu/details/2185/>.
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