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August 15, 2003
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 student at SUNY at New Paltz when the lights went out. I was in the dining hall with my girlfriend, Louise Schrader from Jackson Heights and others including Bill Mahoney from Brooklyn. Like most people at first, we assumed it was local. The first inkling that it might be bigger was when Bill noticed there were no lights on the mountains.
In the mid sixties social life in a college town revolved around the taverns, but they were full by the time we got there and it seemed everyone in town was wandering around main street trying to gather information. In 1965 we didn't have the mass communication that exists today and the few backup systems in place were very crude. We had no local media and depended on NY City radio stations 100 miles away. As we learned the scope of the blackout some feared the end of the world or at least civilization as we knew it. There was early speculation of Russian sabotage and persisting talk of UFO sighting along the power grid near Rochester.
Unable to get even close to the bar at P&Gs and ready for a cold beer (we knew they wouldn't be cold for long) we went to a bar north of town but that was also too full to get in. A friend of ours was a handyman there and lived in a trailer in the back so we spent the evening with him and left the crowds to wonder and wander.
Why did the blackouts happen, in your opinion?
It was so unexpected there was no planning.
What is your opinion regarding the general causes of power failures (blackouts)?
It seems North Americans value growth over planning.
Did either blackout seem significant or shocking at the time?
Why did you consider the blackout(s) to be significant or insignificant?
1965 was the first time a "fail safe" system went down. I was upstate for the 1977 blackout and not affected. To me it was another symptom of the City's problems of the times.
How did the blackout(s) affect you?
Very little. I was in a rural setting with good friends.
What happened to your perception of the blackout(s) when you heard the news about the full scope of the event(s)?
I was amazed that this could happen. I am still (Aug 2003) amazed that this could happen.
How would you compare the blackout(s) to "normal" power failures you have experienced at other times?
I don't recall any "normal" power failures in upstate NY. When I moved to Texas and Oklahoma I was surprised by the instability of the power here. We can expect a 4 or 5 day outage here about every other year.
What affect, if any, did the blackout(s) have on your opinion of Consolidated Edison Company?
I was in a Central Hudson area and now own stock in the company.
If you experienced both the 1965 and 1977 blackouts, please compare them (describe the ways in which they were similar/different):
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:
Was this the "Summer of Sam"?
Story #251, The Blackout History Project, 15 August 2003, <http://blackout.gmu.edu/details/251/>.
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