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August 16, 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 the Columbia University School of Social Work in Manhattan. At that time, the school was located in the Andrew Carnegie Mansion on 91st St. and 5th Ave.in Manhattan. I was going home from school on the Lexington Avenue bus heading south when the lights went out. The traffic lights weren't working and when it became apparent that there was a problem, everyone got off the bus and started walking. I walked over to Alexanders, a department stoor that used to be near Bloomingdale's. they had an auxiliary power system, so people just went on shopping unaware of the extent of the black out. It was only after i came out of the store and starting walking south that I began to realize what was happening. At nightfall, people began gathering in the candlelight of bars and cafes and restaurants. We were able to receive information on the radio and began to hear about the hardships people were encountering in the subway, in elevators, etc. The telephone lines were overloaded and it was difficult but not impossible to reach people. I was especially relieved when I was able to reach my boyfriend and knew that he was safe and sound. Little by little, throughout the night, the power was restored. The next day (and for days, weeks, months to come), the question on everyone's lips was, "Where were you during the power failure?"
Why did the blackouts happen, in your opinion?
I don't recall why it happened.
What is your opinion regarding the general causes of power failures (blackouts)?
They are probably inevitable from time to time.
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?
It was a major event that had an impact on the lives of large numbers of people.
How did the blackout(s) affect you?
I was fortunate not to have been in a difficult situation, so for me the blackout was just an extra-ordinary experience.
What happened to your perception of the blackout(s) when you heard the news about the full scope of the event(s)?
It was hard to grasp the scope of the event and to realize the multitude of ways it had affected people in different situations.
How would you compare the blackout(s) to "normal" power failures you have experienced at other times?
It is a common experience shared by a very large number of people and it becomes part of our common past.
What affect, if any, did the blackout(s) have on your opinion of Consolidated Edison Company?
If you experienced both the 1965 and 1977 blackouts, please compare them (describe the ways in which they were similar/different):
I did not experience the 1977 blackout.
Did the blackout(s) have any larger meaning in your mind?
Yes (please explain)
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:
I believe that there was some looting in 1965.
In 1977, the situation in NYC was more critical: the city was on the verge of bankrupcy, the gap had widened between the wealthier and poorer classes of New York society.
Story #271, The Blackout History Project, 16 August 2003, <http://blackout.gmu.edu/details/271/>.
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