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Contributed by: Richard Rabinowitz
Contributed on: August 15, 2003

Which blackout(s) did you experience?
Other (please specify)

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?
We had a very nice day in NYC going to Rockefeller Center to see the "Century of Flight Exhibit", as well as a Broadway in the Park feature at Bryant Park. My one complaint (this was just before the blackout) of the day thus far was that it was HOT, so hot that I wanted to go home and take a dip in the pool. ("Home" is in a suburb in Middlesex County, NJ.) So we walked to Penn Station and took the 4:01 out of the station. We got through the tunnel ok, but we got stuck in the Meadowlands (this was a Northeast Corridor train, NJ Transit)for quite a few minutes. My first thought? Oh, it must be a track fire or something like that, there's been quite a few megadelays on the Corridor due to track fires. (The train's lights were still on.) The announcer on the P.A. system thought it was a signal failure, "system wide". Okay, so I thought, NJ Transit must be having a "Penn Central moment". (Penn Central, the bankrupt railroad of the 1960s, was notorious for bad service.) When the train got going again to Newark, we cheered, but when we picked up passengers at Newark Penn, they said that there was a blackout as far as Toronto and Detroit. That was the first I heard of it, and they heard of it on the radio. We lurched forward out of Nwk Penn, and then stopped for a few moments between Nwk Penn and the airport station. After the airport, no delays; we went smoothly to New Brunswick (our stop). Traffic lights were visibly off in Newark; visibly on in New Brunswick; my dad says there was no blackout in Camden or Philly (he works in Camden); I am not sure of the intervening stretches of territory. As for what happened after I got home? We took a dip in the pool, laughed about the whole thing, ordered Chinese takeout, and I watched the news all night. Wow. Thanks are in order to three folks: Ann and Antoinette, those friendly strangers, wherever you are, for that very nice conversation we had on the train during the delay, and George Warrington, head of NJ Transit, for making sure everybody on NJ Transit got home all right.

Why did the blackouts happen, in your opinion?
We don't know. Last I heard, the Canucks and US folks were blaming each other. The Canadians insisted it was a lightning strike on our side of Niagara Falls, the Yanks thought it happened in Canada; Channel 2 radar (that's CBS news) found no thunderstorms in that area at the time. I joked that it must have been a Quantum Leaper gone haywire. ("Quantum Leap", a TV show, once showed the main character, Sam Beckett, being directed by his guide to run a hairdryer at Niagara Falls in 1965, thus - in that fictional world - leading to the blackout of 1965. Hmm.) Power failures cascaded from wherever the source was.

What is your opinion regarding the general causes of power failures (blackouts)?
Oh, perhaps a power surge when people are using enough power, or a ruptured line or two, or something of the source. I've heard that EMPs (electromagnetic pulses) can also cause blackouts.

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?
1965, 1977, and 2003 were all significant because they were so huge. In addition, there was a marked change in reported behavior from 1965 to 1977 and then again to 2003. I wonder why '77 was so violent, when the other two were more marked by the civic spirit in NYC.

How did the blackout(s) affect you?
Delayed by signal problems on NJ Transit, news programs interrupting regular shows

What happened to your perception of the blackout(s) when you heard the news about the full scope of the event(s)?
Wow. It was that big? Thoughts like those two.

How would you compare the blackout(s) to "normal" power failures you have experienced at other times?
Much bigger, and Manhattan was darkened, and it was all over the news until I went to bed.

What affect, if any, did the blackout(s) have on your opinion of Consolidated Edison Company?
I don't really do much business with Con Ed.

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

If yes, please explain:
It means that the electricity companies STILL haven't fixed the electrical problems they said they have fixed in 1965 and 1977! Come on already!

Did the blackout(s) cause any profound crisis?

How did the blackout(s) affect your daily reliance on electricity?
Other (please specify)

If other, please specify:
Don't know yet. I'm reporting on the morning after the blackout. I anticipate no real change, though.

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:
At least in the newspapers. As for 2003, it appears to have been a lot more like 1965 than 1977, and I find that strange - why was NYC so badly off in 1977?

Cite as: Richard Rabinowitz, Story #238, The Blackout History Project, 15 August 2003, <http://blackout.gmu.edu/details/238/>.
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