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January 14, 2005
Which blackout(s) did you experience?
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 just 5 in 1965, but I recall the anxiety we children felt as our father had not returned from work. He worked in the Wall Street area, and we lived in the Heights-Inwood section of Manhattan. We later learned that he walked almost upper Manhatten until he could get a cab. All we knew was that the lights were out, candles were burning and fiddling with the fuse box was not going to work this time. And we did not know where dad was. That seemed a short period of time in the dark as compared with '77. I was 17 at the time, playing my guitar when the sound of generators closing was accompanied by the dimming of lights all around. Then suddenly blackness. It was night time. The next day, a friend and I took the bus through the Bronx and witnessed a number of daylight lootings. There was nothing to be done. We all heard about that frenzie for years to come. But, there was also a lot of assistance among neighbors, a sence of excitement (at least among those of us young enough not to consider the bad possibilities), and chance to live experimentally without electricity. It changed a lot of rules for a short time - not only with what you could get away with (looting), but how you interacted with strangers, spoke with your neighbors, what you were free to do on a day when all the machines were not working.
Why did the blackouts happen, in your opinion?
I have no reason not to believe the conculusions arrived at by those who investigated - system failures, in a nutshell.
What is your opinion regarding the general causes of power failures (blackouts)?
Could be combinations of system and human errors that can be avioded, but not totally eliminated.
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?
Because of the way they affected what people did or didn't do.
How did the blackout(s) affect you?
Gave me, at a young age, an idea of how people can be when the systems are down and the rules are changed. We are capable and ready to do much wrong and much good.
What happened to your perception of the blackout(s) when you heard the news about the full scope of the event(s)?
I witnessed much of what was reported. No changes, really, except the appreciation of how many were effected.
How would you compare the blackout(s) to "normal" power failures you have experienced at other times?
No comparison. Normal power failures do not affect us the same way if we are able to temporarily adapt to the condition. It takes a day or so for those rules to change.
What affect, if any, did the blackout(s) have on your opinion of Consolidated Edison Company?
At the time, being young, I probably held them accountable. However, given all the information and years of life experience, I recognize that, while there were lessons to be learned (and, hopefully were), the individuals did their best.
If you experienced both the 1965 and 1977 blackouts, please compare them (describe the ways in which they were similar/different):
The differences in my experiences of the two had to do with my age. In '65 I was to young to have much control over my days - let alone my life, and was myself "powerless" (sorry about the pun). It was an extension of how things could change withoug my sayso or involvement. In '77, I was more surely involved, and traveled around, visited with people and could assist neigbors.
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
If other, please specify:
If one is flexible, and not in serious need of power (for health reasons, for example), one can adapt - at least temporarily - to a life without electricity. However, I recall that '77 was in summer. Easier then.
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:
Not completely. In '77, no doubt there was crime. It was also a difficult time in many lives - as is the case today. However, what doesn't get reported when the worst things happen is the best things that happen concurrently. Along with the crime, there were real times of people reaching out to one another, neighbors helping and protection one another, and some measure of "togetherness".
Story #331, The Blackout History Project, 14 January 2005, <http://blackout.gmu.edu/details/331/>.
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