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Contributed by: [name withheld]
Contributed on: May 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?
I was a 20 year old working in NYC on 50th and 6th. It was the day before payday and I was broke. Had just enoungh (15 cents)to pay for toked on D train to go home to the Bronx. About 10/15 minutes later the trian stopped and lost all power - Auxiliary Lights went on and at first no-one thought much about the delay. But after 20 minutes people began to panic.

It was getting very hot and air was very heavy. Rumors were now flying thru the train. Teens with Portable radios ran from car to car telling riders that the electricity was out all over the east coast. Some people thought that Russians had sabotaged us and that they were going to drop "the Bomb" on New York. By now people were in real panic - People cryed -

It took more than an hour before RR conductor opened the doors and led us out through the tunnel (very dark, very dirty) and told us to stay in straight line. He took us to a door which opened into a dark tunnel with steps that appeared to be very crude.

We were led out onto the street in the middle of nowhere - It was somewhere in the vacity of Yankee Stadium. I was alone, it was dark and I found myself walking down a street alone, when I saw a 'group' of young men coming at me. they were talking very loud.

By now I was very frightened - I had no money to make telephone call - I didn't know where I was and a bunch of men were coming right at me. I thought my days were over.

Needless to say - these young men did approach me but not to hurt me but to help me. I told them about my problem and by now I was crying. They reasured me that I would get home and then escorted me to the Grand Concourse and paid my bus fare.

I went to the home of my fiance who lived near Fordham road and waited for him to arrive and he took me home where my mother was on the verge of a nervous breakdown.

A funny SIDEBAR - My mother was one of the most overprotective parents that ever lived. When the electricity went out and I did not arrive home she called the police and was horrified that they did not drop everything to come and find me. To this day she cannot understand why the 'rotten policemen' did not come and find me.

As soon as the clock struck 5 PM - I shot out of the my office on the 36th floor of the JC Penney Building - ran to the corner and down the subway steps so that I could make the 5:06 train (and I might add while wearing 4 inch heels)

Well Lucky me, just made it at the doors were closing

Why did the blackouts happen, in your opinion?
In Actuality - because of a faulty switch somewhere up near Canadian Boarder - Could have been the result of carelessness or poor maintenance - What about the human error factor. Who was watching the board or was it just plain old fate.

It was November and we were not on high demand for electricy. The story was the center of media attention for weeks. No matter what the explaination there were those who were convinced that it was the "Russians".

It was the topic of debate in many homes, workplaces and bars for weeks -

What is your opinion regarding the general causes of power failures (blackouts)?
Not sure I understand the term 'general' - Power failures are usually caused by faulty - old equipment or by extraordinarily high demand for service. We as citizens do want more power but may not be prepared to pay the price it would extract on the environment or our pocketbook. We need to invest in R&D to find a safer, cleaner, cheaper way to fule our needs. But R&D does not come cheap either. What is my opinion'm Depends on the day. Somedays I want to see the spending somedays I say we cant afford higher prices. I guess that makes me 'typical' of all americans. Hope this helps

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 significance to me came with the realization that something so small could cause such havoc - Also that the inherant good in humankind would ultimately win out over the evil.

How did the blackout(s) affect you?
Fear of the unknown is always terrifing. But having faced the fears of athis experience I find that similar events do not frighten me. I usually dont panic and am usually able to handle most situations. But what affected me most was people coming together. Whenever I find myself doubting my fellow man, I remember this night - when black helped white - when young helped old - I saw only people helping people.

What happened to your perception of the blackout(s) when you heard the news about the full scope of the event(s)?
My Initial reaction was fear - How could something like this happen. I feared what I did not understand

How would you compare the blackout(s) to "normal" power failures you have experienced at other times?
The 1965 Blackout was more an experience of the mind - I don't recall the inconvenience of not having electicty - I only remember the emotions I experienced. All power failures since, I measure the level of inconvenience. No fear of 'The Russians" so to speak.

What affect, if any, did the blackout(s) have on your opinion of Consolidated Edison Company?
Was it Con Edison or was it the fault of a capacitor somewhere in the Niagra district - But regardless my opinion at the time was that there was probably some check and balaces that were not covered - We needed a Quality Assurance program (before the QA craze) to insure that this would not happen again -

If you experienced both the 1965 and 1977 blackouts, please compare them (describe the ways in which they were similar/different):
I did live through both. The similarity only extended to the type, no electicity. I was very disappointed with the people during the second. I would have hoped that we would have been kinder to each other but I guess we still have lots to learn. But what the first blackout showed us was that we are capable - we just `choose` not to be humane.

Did the blackout(s) have any larger meaning in your mind?
No

Did the blackout(s) cause any profound crisis?
No

How did the blackout(s) affect your daily reliance on electricity?
Other (please specify)

If other, please specify:
It caused me to develop a "what if Plan" What if the regrigerator does not work - Keep supply of canned foods etc,.

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:
Not sure I can explain but give my opinion. During the first everyone was in the dark (no pun intended) - There was a possiblity that this infact was the end of the world. Who would want their last act on earth to be one of wrong doing. I also think that most of those who came to the aid of others reacted from a base or inner part of themselves that call for survial of the species. Once the experience was over - each power failure that followed was not thought to first be the end of the world - it was just what it appeared to be - lack of electricity. And unfortunately opportunists will always seek an opportunity if they feel they can benefit from it. But during the first most of us thought even for a brief time that there would be no tomorrow and sense in steeling things that would be of no benefit.

Cite as: Anonymous, Story #61, The Blackout History Project, 1 May 2000, <http://blackout.gmu.edu/details/61/>.
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