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May 12, 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 20 years old and working for Bache & Co., a brokerage firm, located at 36 Wall Street, NYC. As usual, I met my two cousins, Margaret (now Karaban) and Ellen (now Donnelly) Brady to start our routine trek home to Carteret, New Jersey via the 7th Avenue Subway up to the Port Authority Bus Terminal on 42nd Street. At approximately 5:15 the train began to approach the 14th Avenue station but came to a screaching halt. It was a natural course of events when trains stopped dead before they reached a station stop so no one was concerned.
After about a half hour people began mumbling and complaining since the train had not moved an inch. 2 hours later, the mumbling and complaining grew louder. We still had no idea what was happening, yet there was no panic only that a few people were having trouble breathing from the lack of air on the train. They began opening windows hoping to bring in some air from the tunnel.
By about 8:00, transit personnel began moving through the train to tell us what was going on upstairs. They only said that there was a major power failure throughout New York. They also explained that the reason they could not let anyone out of the train for the previous 3 hours was that our train was sitting on the 3rd rail. Since those who knew what was going on upstairs were led to believe that the power would be restored at any time, they did not want to take the chance of people walking on the 3rd rail. By the end of the 3rd hour, everyone realized there was a huge problem and so the transit people decided it was safe to begin moving people through the tunnel to the 14th Street station.
We began walking through the train to the front car. Transit people helped everyone down the steps onto the rails. Again and quite amazingly, there was no panic but I can remember the transit people showing each and every person who stepped down onto the rails where not to walk and repeating over and over again as they guided us along the dark tunnel, "do not walk on the 3rd rail." They were patient, calm, and outstanding through it all. Once off our train, we walked along the rails to the last car of the train ahead of us; climbed up the steps of the last car, walked through that train until we reached the station platform.
Youth is wonderful. I can remember the three of us laughing and giggling all the way. The older people on the train were getting annoyed but never said anything to us. I think back now and laugh that in 1965, one could smoke anywhere in the world without worrying about it. Being a smoker, I joined the numerous other smokers as we waited out the first 2 hours. By the end of the 3rd hour, nobody dared light up since there was so little air left.
3-1/2 hours later we finally got to the street and for a few minutes just stood in the middle of 14th Street in complete awe. The only light was from the cars. The tops of the skyscrappers were gone. People were standing in the middle of intersections directing traffic; fire trucks, police cars and ambulances were everywhere. But absolutely no panic. People were taking it all in stride like it happened on a regular basis.
Being poor, low paid secretaries, the three of us together didn't have enough money to get a cab so we walked up to 42nd Street to catch our bus to a well lit New Jersey.
What we also had failed to think about through our giggles and laughing was our poor parents who thought by 9:00 that we were dead. They were very relieved to hear our voices when we called them from the Port Authority.
The last thing I remember was riding along the Lincoln Tunnel ramp and looking to my right over to New York City and thinking that the entire island from Wall Street up to the Bronx had vanished. For the first time that night I was upset when I thought we had lost New York City forever.
Why did the blackouts happen, in your opinion?
Although I like my husband's theory about alien ships needing power and energy and zapping the power stations I never gave it much thought. Things happen. It's Murphy's law.
What is your opinion regarding the general causes of power failures (blackouts)?
My very unscientific opinion is we depend too much on man-made resources.
Did either blackout seem significant or shocking at the time?
Neither was significant
Why did you consider the blackout(s) to be significant or insignificant?
In 1965, we were moving full swing into computer technology and life was becoming so much easier with modern gadgets, all electrically powered. The world was becoming more and more electrically dependent, but the power sources had not kept up with developments.12 years later, the same thing happened. The power sources thought there was enough to go around. They figured wrong. It will probably happen again some day as we reach new plateaus of an electrical, easier lifestyle.
How did the blackout(s) affect you?
My cousins and I still laugh and giggle when we talk about it. Nobody was hurt and there was no mass chaos. We look at it as an experience we'll never forget and we look forward to maybe, God willing, telling our grandchildren and great grandchildren about a very spectacular historic event. I look at everything in life as a learning experience and I get mad now that we did not learn from 1965 and 1977. We keep pushing everything to the limits and it will happen again.
What happened to your perception of the blackout(s) when you heard the news about the full scope of the event(s)?
I guess I was too young to worry about it. I was in work bright and early the next day. Wall Street was a little off kilter for a few days but slowly life and Wall Street went back to back to normal. I had a fun-filled weekends ahead to think about.
How would you compare the blackout(s) to "normal" power failures you have experienced at other times?
1965 was a complete surprise. It had never happened before. Now, as we become more and more electrically dependent, it's no surprise. Almost expected.
What affect, if any, did the blackout(s) have on your opinion of Consolidated Edison Company?
Then, I really could have cared less. Now, at 54, they need to keep the pace.
If you experienced both the 1965 and 1977 blackouts, please compare them (describe the ways in which they were similar/different):
Isn't it amazing, I have no recollection at all of the 1977 blackout.
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?
Became less reliant
If other, please specify:
I am a strong advocate of our natural resources and preserving them for the future.
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:
Ah yes I remember how nice everybody was in 1965. By 1977, New York City was at its lowest level. Looting was out of control even before the blackout. The city on a whole was one big slum and that was the fault of the mayor and previous mayors.
Story #66, The Blackout History Project, 12 May 2000, <http://blackout.gmu.edu/details/66/>.
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