<< Return to prior page
May 2, 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 had just left work for the day at 52nd Street and Avenue of the Americas (it may have been 6th Avenue back then). I went down to the subway at Rockefeller Center to catch the IND D-Train north to the Bronx. When I arrived on the plartform, a train was preparing to pull out of the station. I managed to squeeze myself into a car just before the door closed. The train was packed.
We were in the tunnel approaching 59th Street when, suddenly, the train simply stopped and all of the lights went out. The initial reaction for some people on the train was to curse Mike Quill who had recently been warning of a subway strike. The only communication we had was through a portable radio that one of the passengers had. However, it wasn't much help since very little information was forthcoming. Some people conjectured that it was a Russian attack. Others opined that it was an attack from space aliens. No matter what the cause, nobody seemed to be visibly upset or worried.
After some time (I don't recall it being all that long) someone directed all of us to leave the train by way of the end of the carsd and to proceed along the tracks until we came to an emergency exit which would bring us up to the street.
The one thing I recall is that there was absolutely no anger, fear or distrust of anybody on that train. Everyone remained calm and did as they were instructed.
When we arrived up on the street at Columbus Circle, it was an amazing scene. All of the lights in the city were off. I didn't know why they were off, just that they were off. However, I remember it being extremely bright that night because of the full moon. I just stood around for a few minutes trying to get my bearings. I noticed that all of the buses were packed, especially those moving uptown. I actually recall seeing an elderly woman standing on the rear bumper and hanging on to the back of a bus, something we used to do as kids.
Again, just as the case in the subway tunnel, there was no panic , fear or anger. Quite the contrary, it almost seemed like everyone was in a party mood. My first inclination was to find a bar, have a beer or two and wait for the power to go back on. However, my timing was way off. The one thing you copuld see was that there was absolutely no room available in any of the bars that night.
I was very lucky that night. I walked to the intersection and the driver of the very first car that came along asked me where I was going. When I told him the Bronx he told me to drop in and he would at least get me close. I don't recall that man's name but his actions seemed to be typical of most, if not all New Yorkers that night. He dropped me off on the concourse, not far from the Washingtton Bridge and I began the long walk home from there.
Here I was walking through unfamiliar neighborhoods, some of them areas you would not normally wander into, and for some reason I was extremely calm. The only lights shining that night came from the candles sitting on top of the many New York City bars.
As I walked the streets of the Bronx that night the strangest thing I remember was that there were no people on the street. The neighborhoods were literally deserted. Instead of rioting and looting, as was the case later in 1977, people chose to stay inside. Perhaps, due to the uncertainty of what was happening, people felt compelled to come together as families and friends, perhaps to pray, perhaps to talk, but in any case to comfort one another.
I think this was New York City's shining moment and demonstrated to the rest of the country and the world, the kind of city that we were.
Why did the blackouts happen, in your opinion?
As I later found out, there was an overload on the power grid that fed the entire Northeastern U.S. Despite the rumors of Russians or little green men,m it was human and mechanical failure
What is your opinion regarding the general causes of power failures (blackouts)?
Poor planning on the part of the providerExcessive and sudden use of electricity at one timeStorms
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?
The 1965 blackout was significant for the fact that it was dealt with in such a calm way by those it affected.The 1977 blackout was significant because it showed, in just 12 short years, how far down the city had fallen and how little regard many had for the property of others
How did the blackout(s) affect you?
Not in any particular way
How would you compare the blackout(s) to "normal" power failures you have experienced at other times?
"Normal" power failures today seem more localized and rarely last for a very long time.
What affect, if any, did the blackout(s) have on your opinion of Consolidated Edison Company?
If you experienced both the 1965 and 1977 blackouts, please compare them (describe the ways in which they were similar/different):
I didn't actually personally experience the 1977 blackout but was merely an observer on TV
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:
I think I have already expressed this in my comments above.
Story #62, The Blackout History Project, 2 May 2000, <http://blackout.gmu.edu/details/62/>.
<< Return to prior page