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February 17, 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?
I was twelve years old when the blackout occurred. My father was out of town on a business trip. We lived on West Eleventh Street, in the Village. I used to be alone in the house for a couple of hours every afternoon before my parents got home from work. That day, I remember sitting outside on the stoop waiting for my mother to arrive. She came running down the street with her high heels clicking on the pavement, and was SO relieved to see me there. The whole way home, she had worried that I would think that a fuse was blown, and then the electricity would go on just as I was trying to repair it. Actually, I'm not sure I knew what a blown fuse was at twelve years old. I certainly didn't know how to fix one.
We had a good time. I valued those times alone with my mother. I'm not honestly sure what we did for light. I do remember the two of us going off to hunt for candles at the neighborhood stores, and discovering that the merchants had doubled the price, which we thought un-neighborly. Maybe we bought some, anyway. I remember noticing that the White Horse Tavern, on our corner, was crowded with people, more than usual, and that it was lighted completely with candles.
Later that night, we talked to my father on the phone. That was still when you went through an operator to make a long-distance call. I think he called us. I've forgotten where he was. Boston? What I remember is, we were enjoying ourselves.
Why did the blackouts happen, in your opinion?
Funny, but it never occurred to me at the time to ask why it happened. In fact, I've never really thought about it. Somehow I just put it down as an out-of-reach act of God, like tornadoes, earthquakes, and rainbows. Con-Ed seemed that big and abstract to me. If they could dam the Hudson River (which was something they actually proposed at one point), it's not so surprising that they could put out the lights all over New York.
What is your opinion regarding the general causes of power failures (blackouts)?
When there's such a mixture of wires and transmitters, installed at so many different times, all working in concert over so much urban space,it seems impressive to me that electricity flows as reliably as it does.
Did either blackout seem significant or shocking at the time?
Why did you consider the blackout(s) to be significant or insignificant?
This was the first black-out I had ever heard of, and everyone seemed to be responding as if it were the first that had ever occurred, anywhere, ever. That was the thrill in it.
How did the blackout(s) affect you?
I enjoyed the black-out. I don't remember any negative effects. We must have lost things in the refridgerator, but I don't recall the inconveniences. I just remember the novelty of it.
What happened to your perception of the blackout(s) when you heard the news about the full scope of the event(s)?
I was delighted. I felt as though I had experienced something really unusual, and wonderful, even. And if you want to know about it this many years later, then maybe I had.
How would you compare the blackout(s) to "normal" power failures you have experienced at other times?
There were four blackouts in my Washington, DC neigborhood this past summer,caused by some big break-down at a power station. They made me think of the New York black-out. But it was different this time. I enjoyed that the sky was dark enough that you could see stars, and that the streets were quiet when the air conditioners went off, and that people were sitting and chatting on the stoops, chased out of their apartments, for once, by the unaccustomed hot air. But there was no unusual thrill to it, like the first time. It came up in conversation with neighbors a little. But no one will ask about those blackouts thirty-five years from now. I knew the lights would go on eventually. I think everyone knew that.
What affect, if any, did the blackout(s) have on your opinion of Consolidated Edison Company?
I think, if anything, it made Con-Ed seem that much more God-like, big, abstract, and all-powerful. But I was twelve.
If you experienced both the 1965 and 1977 blackouts, please compare them (describe the ways in which they were similar/different):
I had moved away from New York by 1977.
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
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's too bad, but no, it doesn't surprise me. The first blackout was an anomaly. That's what pulled out the best in everyone.
Story #46, The Blackout History Project, 17 February 2000, <http://blackout.gmu.edu/details/46/>.
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