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July 7, 2005
Which blackout(s) did you experience?
1977 (New York City 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 stuck on the 48th floor of the Americana Hotel on the evening of July 13th. My family and I had earlier visited the United Nations building and gone to the Empire State Building (we were planning to go to Europe the next day). There was a grim omen during our trip to the Empire State Building--we took the elevator to the 102nd floor, but the elevator, which was jammed with people, got stuck at the 100th floor.
After we had dinner in the hotel restaurant, we went back to our hotel room. We watched TV and saw flash of lightning and heard thunder. Just after watching Grizzly Adams on TV (an episode which dealt with an exploding volcano), we lay down and then noticed that all the lights went out.
I didn't think too much about it at first--after all, in the Des Moines (Iowa) area, the worst of thunderstorms knock out electrical power. But the power was knocked out to the entire region--except to New Jersey, where the lights were brilliant. We went to sleep an hour later, after I thought the lights had come back on for a moment or two.
The next day, the lights were not back on. Mother said that we should get ready to evacuate in case there was fire. I thought about a novel which had come out a few years back which dealt with an office building which dealt with an office building which lost its electrical power due to a power surge that started fires throughout the building. There was no food in our hotel room--so we waited all day long in our hotel room for the power to come back, although we called the front desk downstairs.
We heard about the engineers trying to rescue people from the stuck elevators, the looting that was going on and the power being restored block by block. I recall reading a novel by Fletcher Knebel about a truck driver-turned-presidential candidate to pass the time. And we agreed that we could have been stuck in the elevator that would have taken us to the 102nd floor observation deck of the Empire State Building instead of our hotel room.
Finally, the lights and power came back on. We hurried down to the lobby and checked out. We found a taxi and got out to Kennedy Airport and got ourselves checked in for our flight to Europe. We also had our first meals in almost a full day, even though the power was still out at JFK. We were glad to get on that TWA Boeing 747, even though it was delayed, possibly due to the great blackout.
When we got to Europe, we bought copies of newspapers, magazines, etc. which had articles about the blackout. Needless to say, we learned quite a lot about what we weren't able to see just blocks from our hotel room.
Why did the blackouts happen, in your opinion?
The Con Ed people should have known that their transmission towers and lines would be vulnerable to lightning--and taken the proper measures to protect them. There's even information about protecting lines and towers in the Encyclopaedia Britannica, if I'm not mistaken.
What is your opinion regarding the general causes of power failures (blackouts)?
They should have been prevented. I hope lessons were learned from the inquiries.
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?
I think Con Ed violated the trust in its customers--esp. in regards to the 1977 power failure.
How would you compare the blackout(s) to "normal" power failures you have experienced at other times?
The 1977 power failure could have been prevented. The power failures I've seen at home were handled, due to their being caused by bad weather such as thunderstorms, ice, etc.
What affect, if any, did the blackout(s) have on your opinion of Consolidated Edison Company?
The 1977 blackout showed Con Ed at its worst. I hope the top execs were cashiered.
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
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:
Considering how the city and American society had changed between 1965 and 1977, I believe the story.
Story #400, The Blackout History Project, 7 July 2005, <http://blackout.gmu.edu/details/400/>.
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