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Contributed by: david hawthorne
Contributed on: May 12, 2013

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?
1977: It was our second anniversary. July 13, 1977. My wife Dorothy Durkin-Hawthorne and I were celebrating it a Raoul's on Spring Street. It was our 2nd anniversary. Quite night. Terri Garr was at the table next to us. My wife was a HUGE fan of the film. We both were. I was a little discomfitted, because the paintings of a nede on the wall were clearly my best friend's girlfriend (both law school students at NYU). The lights suddenly went out. There was momentary confusion, Staff emerged with candles and flashlights. some emergency lights went on. With the air conditioning off, the crowed room became fetid within minutes. Then the chef came through the swinging doors from the kitchen: "Mdme, Mssrs. Ladies and gentleman, ze power has gone out everywhere! Please remain calm. Fortunately, we are cooking with gas, and alas, everything must be cooked or be thrown out. You may stay and eat, or you may go. What do you say? Should I cook or will you prefer to go home?" In unison, the cry went up: "Cook! Keep cooking!!" We ate and drank for till, I suppose, we ate it all. My wife and I had a few blocks to walk to our apartment in WSV. It was pitch black. We bumped into other pedestrians on our way home. Two days later, water service having ended at WSV, we walked across Washington Square Park in our bathrobes and slippers, to our office at 2 University Place. At just 4 stories high, it still had water, and on my floor (4) there was a bathtub. Dorothy and I climbed the stairs had a wonderful time in the tub. On our way home, we ran into a coworker, Julie Cruz. She couldn't
believe we'd "do it" in the upstair bathtub at the office. Hey, we'd only been married a little more than year. What the hey!

2006: I figured it was a fluke; it would be over in a day, I thought. I had scheduled a sailing lesson in down on Barnegat Bay. I left by my wife of 21 years at home. She wasn't interest in sailing. I had arranged with friends to say somewhere in Sea Side Height. I called home to see how things were going. My wife was out batteries, pissed that I had left her (she said I should go), but conceded that I had asked, and she had siad, "Go!"

2011 (Sandy): I live on lower Broadway in Manhattan. It went out on a Saturday. I'm a widower now. My Dorothy past away, August 2011. I miss her so much!

I'm an old hand at this by now. I had plenty of batteries. For most of my neighbors, this is the first time. I checked worried about my son in Carroll Gardens, but apparently, it was just a big rainstorm there.

Many left for places that had electricity. The rest of us pulled together. We're a low-rise so we never lost water pressure. we bathed in water we heated on our stoves, We threw out our food or, in my case, I cooked every damn thing in the refrigerated. My neighborhood restaurant was throwing out barrels of ice from its ice-making machines. I rushed over and got several buckets full to augment my refrigerator. I re-packed the ice in plastic bags and packed them into the refrigerators. 3-4 days later, I was still eating fresh what others had let spoil.

I enjoyed standing on Broadway and greeting the passersby'; invited in people I knew from the neighborhood for something to eat, drink some camaraderie. Cell service had gone out so there was no phone service at all. On the second or 3rd day, I rode my bike up to 23rd Street to catch a signal. I loved what I saw on the faces of people trudging up and down Broadway: determined, resigned, resilient, old, young, able, disabled, children, parents, husbands, wives, workers, homeless, every color, creed, gender preference moving doggedly toward whatever goal they had yesterday, today or tomorrow. I love this city! I miss my wife.





Why did the blackouts happen, in your opinion?
1965: I was in the Army. It was a photo on the front page of "Stars and Stripes"
1977: Poor planning and development of electrical grid. Pent up anger over "same city-separate experiences" led to violence. I worked with Lindsay and Ted Weiss when I got here in '69, we could see it coming.
2006: ditto 1977, minus the violence.
2011: Superstorm Sandy exacerbated by lousy planning, poor infrastructure design, and ignorant disregard for accumulating impact of climate change. There will be more and worse!


What is your opinion regarding the general causes of power failures (blackouts)?
That's really a rather silly question: Too much demand, inadequate infratructure, deteriorating will to deal with the real issues. The solutions (more or less) are clear: 1. Go sustainable go green. 2. Design for minimal energy demand, 3. Understand that the ball is already rolling down the lane: we have to be better prepared for what happens after it strikes the pins. Better disaster response and, more important, a better disaster recovery plan. The recovery experience in the aftermath of Katrina and Sandy, and Haiti and others shows that no one in government is taking this seriously.





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 aftermath of '77 revealed the extent to which the city had become segregated and atomized, racially, and politically, Subsequent blackout demonstrated a genuine improvement in out sense of one-city-common cause. The government, however, especially at state and federal levels, remains largely inept.

How did the blackout(s) affect you?
I told my stories above.

What happened to your perception of the blackout(s) when you heard the news about the full scope of the event(s)?
It each case it was worse than it had to be.

How would you compare the blackout(s) to "normal" power failures you have experienced at other times?
Well, it's colossal! Scale, bredth, depth. Come on ...


What affect, if any, did the blackout(s) have on your opinion of Consolidated Edison Company?
Not much. They are a fiction, a shadow game rigged by politicians and corporate interest to satisfy investors, not consumers. Let's get back to Public Utilities answerable to the people.

If you experienced both the 1965 and 1977 blackouts, please compare them (describe the ways in which they were similar/different):
As stated: Watched '65 from abroad; experienced a romantic interlude in 1977, regretted the violence, but saw it coming.

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

If yes, please explain:
...if we don't get serious about the long-term impact of climate change, we are going to be crushed. Infrastructure should not be conceived or designed on an annual profit-&-Loss timeframe. You are building that foundation of what future generations will have to cope with. Try to do it right for Crissake!\

Did the blackout(s) cause any profound crisis?
Yes (please explain)

If yes, please explain:
In '77 the civil unrest was eye opening. Do not mistake it for 'racial.' If we continue to renege on our obligation to design and build for future generations (rathe the next quarter's P&L) the 'walls will come tumblin' down."

How did the blackout(s) affect your daily reliance on electricity?
Became less reliant

If other, please specify:
I am a huge proponent of using green technologies to get us off the goddamn grid.

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, '65 in the triumph of the voting rights act, and the fervor of the civil rights victories, we bought some time. By 1977, we had squandered it.


Cite as: david hawthorne, Story #2204, The Blackout History Project, 12 May 2013, <http://blackout.gmu.edu/details/2204/>.
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