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Contributed by: [name withheld]
Contributed on: February 15, 2000

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?
Alison Lee Bills (alibi21@attglobal.net): Re: Factual 2000/02/15

In 1965 I was in the shoe business in NYC. I worked on the 84th floor of the Empire State Building which at the time had many shoe companies and showrooms. the Shoe Trade Show was also going on and several of us were to get together at the Hilton Hotel as a friend had come in from CA & St. Louis. I had come down from the ESB about 5pm and was walking up 5th Ave to meet a friend "under the clock" in Grand Central Station. As I got closer to Grand Central the lights started to go out all around me. People don't normally speak to eachother in NYC but strangers started to joke about ConEd not paying the bills...I started to walk down the ramp at 42nd & Vanderbuilt into Grand Central with a guy with a lighter. I got over to the "clock" in the dark, although light seemd to be coming from somewhere or flashlights. I actually met my girlfriend, another shoe designer who had her own adventures coming on the subway from Brooklyn. We walked up 5th Ave in the dark and there were people directing traffic and everyone was laughing and joking along the way. We made our way over the Hilton and met her husband who came from I do not remember where? We found the friend from CA & St.Louis and walked up 16 flights of stairs to get to the room that the gal from CA had. I remember this very clearly as I had just bought a pair of riding boots at Miller's and they had not been cut down under the knee as yet sooo that was a fun climb. After we had gotten all the way up there we realized we were hungry so two kind soles from the group volunteered to go find food. We faced uptown in the room and as we looked west we could see some lights from New Jersey off in the distance. I do not know how long it took for the cold sandwiches to return as they really had to scout far and wide to find anything. By this time we had taken apart the furniture so we could all have a place to sleep. I believe by the time we finally got to sleep after this great big slumber party the lights flipped on at about 4-5am.. This is an event you do NOT forget but it was the first time people really helped one another in NYC it felt safe and fun. You also feel that you can deal with anything anywhere else because of the blackout. I now work for a foreign utility in Washington DC and they of course study this from a technical point of view.

Why did the blackouts happen, in your opinion?
A malfunction but New Yorkers are always fatelistic so it really didn't matter to me at the time. Murphy's Law.

What is your opinion regarding the general causes of power failures (blackouts)?
System Overload is often he cause of power failures.

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

Why did you consider the blackout(s) to be significant or insignificant?
The entire North East was without power. This is a huge situation and there were NO computers per say at that time. It just seemed like an impossibility at the time.

How did the blackout(s) affect you?
As a New Yorker at the time. You just did what you had to do to help or whatever. But the whole attitude of the city changed. Normally you do NOT make eye contact or speak or have any contact with anyone for fear or rude remarks or crazy talk or robbery etc. in NY. A safety issue sepecially a woman alone. But that night it was like one big party.

What happened to your perception of the blackout(s) when you heard the news about the full scope of the event(s)?
New Yorkers are pretty blase about most things and since the electricity was on by morning I did not think too much about it except that it did effect the whole North East.

How would you compare the blackout(s) to "normal" power failures you have experienced at other times?
Most times in my life now it is an inconvenience as most of the houses in the Maryland area I live in now are electric and we have computers etc. Brown outs or no electricity are just a bother.

What affect, if any, did the blackout(s) have on your opinion of Consolidated Edison Company?
ConEd was know at that time in NYC as "Dig we Must" there were always potholes all over the city and we just attributed them all to ConED.

If you experienced both the 1965 and 1977 blackouts, please compare them (describe the ways in which they were similar/different):
I was in Connecticut at the time of the 1977 black out and have no memory of it. But in the summers in NYC there were always issues about the heat and racial troubles to begin with. Kids out of school, no jobs, nothing to do...

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?
Other (please specify)

If other, please specify:
In NYC at the time I had a gas stove in the apt I lived in so I was able to cook. it was not as noticible as it was in parts of CT, or Westchester, NY where I have lived since 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:
In 1965 the crime rate perhaps droped temporarily for that night but it droped SIGNIFICANTLY. THERE WAS NONE. as I recall and this was unheard of in the City.

Cite as: Anonymous, Story #45, The Blackout History Project, 15 February 2000, <http://blackout.gmu.edu/details/45/>.
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