<< Return to prior page
April 1, 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?
In November 1965 I was living with my husband and two young children in Amherst, MA. But the evening of Nov. 9th, I was at the Samaritan Hospital in Troy, NY where my father was dying of a brain tumor. My mother and I were climbing the hospital stairs from eating supper in the cafeteria when everything went black. There were a few gasps and cries of surprise, then the hospital generator kicked in , producing eerie green lights that cast long shadows, and made it possible to continue to my father's room. There we found his oxygen machine still functioning, although in the general silence that seemed to accompany the reduced light the rasping of the machine and his labored breathing seemed to dominate as it hadn't before. We sat holding his blue, swollen hands while nurses came and went talking of a blackout that had affected all of Troy...no, all of New York State...no, all of New England. It seemed astonishing, and unbelievable.
Toward ten o'clock I left the hospital to drive home over the mountainout Mohawk Trail. I can't remember now whether phones were functioning, whether I knew that my husband had connected with our two daughters, that they were "camping out" in the playroom with candles and our camp stove, or whether I learned that later. But I recall vividly the amaziing three-hour drive in the moonlight. My emotions were raw, for my father was very near the end, yet as I drove through little town after little town so quiet and peaceful and dark, only here or there dimly lighted windows, with my headlights and a nearly full moon barely revealing the landscape, it seemed strangely peaceful. Almost as if the world had turned back into the nineteenth century habitat in which my father had been born. The night was warm for November, I remember, and this contributed to the a;lmost "other worldly" sense.
We woke very early next morning to the shrill ring of the phone. My mother's voice said, "Daddy's gone, dear." The electricity was back on.
Why did the blackouts happen, in your opinion?
Some big glitch or technical insufficiency in the Con Ed equipment at their Niagra plant, is my memory.
What is your opinion regarding the general causes of power failures (blackouts)?
Most power failures, in my experience, are weather related. It happens during snowstorms, or windstorms, or, in the part of the world where I live now, from tree interference. Usually it's quite a local phenomenon, affecting a small area.
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?
Any blackout is significant because we are so dependent on electricity, and inevitably people suffer without it. The significance varies, however, depending on weather, the duration of the blackout, time of day, etc.
How did the blackout(s) affect you?
I think I answered tjhis above. The blackout was so entwined with my father's death that I've always associated the two as part of the same phenomenon. But in general, the 1965 blackout was a source of wonder - it eliminated electricity in a vast area, allowing one to see how vulnerable the region was. But at the same time, with the warm weather, the beautiful moonlight, and no major disasters associated with it, it was a moving and memorable experience, beautiful in a strange way.
What happened to your perception of the blackout(s) when you heard the news about the full scope of the event(s)?
I don't think my perception changed, although I'm sure there were stories of people caught in elevators or other exigencies that made me feel our family and friends had been fortunate.
How would you compare the blackout(s) to "normal" power failures you have experienced at other times?
The 1965 blackout was huger, but not as long in duration as others I've experienced , and was quite benign. Since it happened in milr weather, there wasn't the concern about people being too cold or hot, pipes freezing, food spoiling, etc. I've certainly been through many tougher tho smaller blackouts.
What affect, if any, did the blackout(s) have on your opinion of Consolidated Edison Company?
I think that I thought this was a good warning for Con Ed, a wake up call that utilities had to be more responsible about the services they provide.
Did the blackout(s) have any larger meaning in your mind?
Yes (please explain)
If yes, please explain:
The meaning was very personal, because of my father's death.
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:
Those particular blackouts didn't affect our reliance on electricity in any significant way. However, we now live deep in the country, where electrical failures occur two or three times a year, and have put in our own emergency generator to ensure that vital services continue.
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:
I wasn't in New York State at the time of the 1977 blackout, and although I can remember several events of July 1977, the blackout isn't one of them. But I can imagine that the weather may have been excessively hot, so that the absence of air conditioning caused tempers to turn ugly. Also, by that time the Civil Rights issues had made American ugly toward one another, and various city riots had taught people unruly behavior. So the fact that it could have been a very different experience rings true. By then, too, more people might have been mad at a seemingly unresponsive Con Edison, which charged higher rates for undependable service.
Story #53, The Blackout History Project, 1 April 2000, <http://blackout.gmu.edu/details/53/>.
<< Return to prior page