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Contributed by: Gloria Barr Ford
Contributed on: February 22, 2005

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 had come from South Carolina to spend some time with my sister and her family who lived on Bergen Street in Brooklyn, NY. On this particular day my sister was away at work as was her husband who was in the Navy and stationed at a base in New York. (I don't know the exact details of his assignment). I was baby sitting my little niece and nephew who were a handful and about to get on my nerves. We were in an upstairs apartment which was quite different from my single family country home in South Carolina. I spent a lot of time looking out of the window at what was going on below. The Kingston Lounge with its checkered black and white windows made its landmark across the street from our apartment. New Yorkers it seemed, never stopped for anything. Whenever it rained in South Carolina, or in my hometown at least; people were paralyzed. Plans were put on hold as we waited out the rain. Here in New York a rainy day was just like a sunshiny day. The only difference was the vast arrays of colorful umbrellas. Unlike the place where I had come from when all of the stores promptly closed by 6 P.M., you could look out of your window anytime of night and someone or something was always constantly on the move. New York was truly the city that never slept.
It was on this particular day that I had threatened to give "Bonnie and Clyde" the spanking of their life if they didn't sit on the sofa and not utter a word for a moment. It must have been the look on my face or the seriousness in my voice that made them do as I had said. It was at that moment I noticed the light in the apartment was becoming very dim. I was raised by an old fashioned grandmother who had told me when the time of death came that things grew faintly dim. I thought my time had come and quickly forced my prisoners to say whether they noticed an unusual dimness about the room. They didn't answer me. It wasn't long after that that the entire apartment went dark. I can't remember the exact time, but sometime during the darkness, my sister came home. What a relief it was as she explained that there had been a massive blackout and people were stuck in subways and other places. My heart went out to those persons. I ventured to the window. I had never seen such a sight that was not to see in my life. New York was black as night. It was scary. The always bustling and hustling going on in the streets below had been brought to a halt. There were no stores on my street for looting, and Iwas sure no one would attempt to loot the Kingston Lounge. I felt almost like the day in 10th grade at my school when we learned over the PA system that President John F.Kennedy had been shot. It was undescribable heartbreak. Now here was the great giant city of all cities lying in darkness and could not find its light. This was one part of history I knew I would always remember. I don't remember how long we stayed in darkness, but I remember being thankful to God that my family was safe, as my brother-in-law in the Navy also made it home safe. It was time to pray for those who were less fortunate; those in subways underground, those in elevators or other places, mothers having babies, or the elderly who lived alone. I believe my prayers were mixed with those in the nation and around the world as the lights finally came back on in New York.

Why did the blackouts happen, in your opinion?
I really don't know. I never expected such a thing to happen in New York of all places. I think it had something to do with Con Edison who supplied the electricity for New York at that time.

What is your opinion regarding the general causes of power failures (blackouts)?
I believe people can abuse what they have as long as they are paying for it. Perhaps the equipment might need repairs, or someone with great responsibility might not be doing their job as they should.

Did either blackout seem significant or shocking at the time?
1965 only

Why did you consider the blackout(s) to be significant or insignificant?
It was significant to let such a great city as New York know not to get too comfortable. That no matter how one may seem to be on top of the mountain, that there are always valley experiences one may have to endure. It was significant to let them know to be prepared for times of trouble.

How did the blackout(s) affect you?
Like I said I shall never forget the day that New York which I had deemed the greatest of the great, seemed so dark and helpless. It let me know that man has power, but man doesn't have the ultimate power.

What happened to your perception of the blackout(s) when you heard the news about the full scope of the event(s)?
I still think it happened for a reason. I think New Yorkers or those in authority of various mechanisms that ran the city should have become more prepared for times of emergency.

How would you compare the blackout(s) to "normal" power failures you have experienced at other times?
I can't compare except for the exhiliration that you feel when the power finally comes back on.

If you experienced both the 1965 and 1977 blackouts, please compare them (describe the ways in which they were similar/different):
I only experienced the 1965 blackout

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

If yes, please explain:
It could always happen again. There was some lesson in it. There was something significant about it.

Did the blackout(s) cause any profound crisis?

How did the blackout(s) affect your daily reliance on electricity?
Became less reliant

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:
It seems people didn't take it as serious as they should have.

Cite as: Gloria Barr Ford, Story #332, The Blackout History Project, 22 February 2005, <http://blackout.gmu.edu/details/332/>.
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