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February 17, 2004
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?
What follows is an excerpt from a letter written on Nov. 15, 1965. My mother wrote this letter to her mother after experiencing the blackout. I am the 5 year old girl described in the letter.
About the blackout--we got caught in the City. What a night! That afternoon I decided to go over to Macy's and match some material I had bought there about a month ago. I wanted to make a circular table cloth and hadn't got enough. There was no rush and I certainly could have gone another time but I thought it would be a nice outing for us. Cindy could look at Christmas decorations and then we'd have supper there before coming home. We ate early and came out of the restaurant about 5:15 P.M. and went directly downstairs to the subway. We got on at 34th St. and hadn't made the first stop when the power failed. There were auxillary lights which came on so we weren't in darkness. Cindy and I were standing but only about 6 more people were standing so it wasn't too crowded. The conductor announced the powere had failed but they hoped to have it repaired shortly. For 2 hrs. you could have heard a pin drop--nobody said a word. I opened a paper bag for Cindy and she sat on the floor. She wrote on the bag and played with some Thanksgiving decorations we'd bought. Then she needed to go to the bathroom--the subway doesn't have them!! I found the conductor by wading thru and over 4 cars of people. He closed the doors between 2 cars and held the flashlight so I could hold her over the tracks. At 7:30 they first announced that anyone who wanted to could leave. So we got in line but before we got to the exit people were turning around coming back saying the streets were dark and crowded. So I decided we'd be safer where we were. About half the people left and there was plenty of room so Cindy stretched out on the seat and went to sleep. At 9:30 P.M. they came through and said everyone must leave. I woke Cindy up, put on her shoes and coat and she walked out. We were lucky cause there was an exit real close and we only had to walk about 6 steps on the ledge beside the train and then up thru a manhole. The steps were real steep and far apart and Cindy wasn't able to manage them so the conductor took her up to within 3 steps of the top and trying to manage the rest of the way she stumbled and bumped her knee so some people from the top grabbed her a pulled her up. This frightened her cause she couldn't see me and she screamed terrified but as soon as she saw me she was o.K. Some nice(?) gentleman offered me his hotel room to put her to bed. I declined but if he had offered it again at midnight I think I would have taken it. We asked directions for a bus to South Ferry (I had met a elderly woman on the subway who was going to Staten Island so we stuck together). We waited 1/2 hr. and no SF bus came by so we asked around and discovered we were in the wrong place. We went to the right corner but no buses would stop. They were so crowded not one more person could have jammed in. We waited there for over an hour also trying to hail a taxi but they were also all filled up. People were even hitch hiking rides. The lade from S.I. decided she'd call her son and he would come from S.I. and pick us up. We waited 1/2 hr. in line for the pnone and she got him and he said he's be there in 30 mminutes. It was now 11:15. Cindy said "Mommy, I'm going to sleep standing up" so I picked her up and she was asleep immediately. 2 women took her from me twice to rest my arms. At 12:30 p.m. her son hadn't come and we began hearing reports from others around us that the bridges, tunnels and etc were tied up and it was taking 3 hrs to get over from S.I. A man came along and offered me a ride to the ferry. He had come from S.I. to pick up his wife and someone she had met in the subway. The other lady insisted that I go but I hated to leave her there. Cindy was so heavy I had to tho. As we started to go 2 men knocked on the window and asked if they could ride downtown. So we got down to the S I ferry line which was very long and we walked about 3 blocks over to the Governor's Island ferry terminal. The place was dark and cold and the ferries weren't running. So we settled down in a chair--Cindy in my lap and went to sleep. At 2:00 a.m. they waked us up and said an army small boat would come to the Coast Guard Station (about 2 blocks away) and pick us up. So for the 3rd time I waked Cindy up and we walked over. It was really cold and windy by now. Lucky I had the material--I used it for a blanket. When Cindy saw the gangway to the small boat (about a 40 ft. cabin cruiser)--it was a narrow board at quite an angle she started to run in the other direction and say "I'll wait for the ferry!" I had to run catch her and carry her over the gangway. Once she was on the boat she was O.K. We came into Gov. Is about 1/4 the Island away from the ferry slip so we had to walk up to the parking lot to get the car. We arrived home at 3:30 a.m. to find a warm house and the lights on. They only were off for 5 hrs on Gov. Is. I was so proud of Cindy. Her spirits were so good and she was just wonderful thru-out. If she had acted up it really would have been a miserable night.The couple of times I mentioned earlier she was certainly justified in her actions. There was no school Wed. cause only a handful of teachers managed to get here. The night was a real adventure but I'm not quite ready to try it again. My faith in human nature was rekindled. It was amazing to see everyone so friendly and helping each other--especially when you are so used to never seeing anyone even speak. I also realized (along with at least 30 million others) how much we depend on electricity and also how much we take it for granted. Imagine New York City with no neon signs glowing!! And even more unbelievable--no traffic lights.
The rest of this letter, both the opening and closing contain personal remarks unrelated to the blackout.
Did either blackout seem significant or shocking at the time?
Neither was significant
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?
Became less reliant
Story #309, The Blackout History Project, 17 February 2004, <http://blackout.gmu.edu/details/309/>.
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