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September 24, 2006
Which blackout(s) did you experience?
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?
1965: I was 15 years old. We lived in Brooklyn, but I went to HS in Manhattan. I came home early that day because my parents were going out to dinner to celebrate their wedding anniversary, and I had to babysit for my 2 younger brothers(10 & 8 years old) I was lucky becuase on any other day I would have been caught on the subway when the blackout occurred. We were home when the lights began to dim. The radio reported it as a "brown out". The lights flickered off several times, came back on, and remained dim for some time before finally going out for good. I had enought time to round up flashlights and prepare. I threaded aluminum foil around the handing fixture over our kitchen table and set it up with candles. It was almost as bright as normal. We sat around the table and did our homework. A friend called. He was hysterical. He was home along. he screamed: "I'm going blind, I'm going blind. Everything around me is growing dim!!" I told hom about the brown out and that it was happening to everyone. At first he didn't believe me, but we stayed on the phone for hours talking. He didn't like being alone. I finally convinced him that the blackout was everywhere.
Meanwhile, my parents had been driving up the West Side Highway, and saw the lights on the Empire State Building - and everywhere go out. At first they thought that the city was being attacked. They turned around and made their way to E 14th St between 1st Ave and Ave A where my Dad had a small deli. There they found out that it was a blackout and they tried to call us to make sure we were safe. Of course, I was on the phone and they couldn't get through. People were crowding into the store looking to buy the basics and candles. My Aunt owned a gift shop down the street that sold decorative candles. My father went down the block and brought back all of her candles. He sold them all, but never forgot that people accused him of price gauging because the prices were higher than those of the simple memorial candles he usually sold. Every time he told the story he added: "Thye didn't understand - those were my sister's candles and they cost a lot more".
Meanwhile, back in Brooklyn, we kids had finished homework and were bored. We went out into the street, and between the tree branches, were saw the stariest night I ever remembered seeing in the city. The night was clear and bright with moonlight. i remebered a beautiful night.
Next day, back at school in Manhattan, everyone had exciting stories of being caught on the trains, walking for miles, sleeping at school!! I felt cheated by having such a mundane experience of such an exciting event.
1977: I was standing in my kitchen on the 27th floor at Knickerbocher Plaza (E92nd St and 2nd Ave in Manhattan). From there I had view North and on a clear day I could see Westchester and beyond. As I stood, cooking, I saw a series of rectangular shapes going black one after the other traveling from North to South until we were plunged into darkness. It was summer and hot. All night I saw helicopters hovering over Harlem and Spanish Harlem. Kleig lights were set up at the corner of 125th St and I could see people being round up and held there all night long. Our buidling was part of a complex that was all electric. Long after the lights went back on, we remained without power because they were afraid that if we were plugged back in the system would go out again. After a week or so, mobile generators were brought in and we were hooked up to them for several months. During the time we were without power, people formed caravans with those who had flashlights to climb up the darkened steps. The bar across the street kept our groceries for us in the 'fridge. Neighbors were very kind to one another and helped to look out for elderly neighbors.
Why did the blackouts happen, in your opinion?
I really don't know.
What is your opinion regarding the general causes of power failures (blackouts)?
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?
They were a major disruption to life as we knew it.
How did the blackout(s) affect you?
What happened to your perception of the blackout(s) when you heard the news about the full scope of the event(s)?
I found them to be major life events.
How would you compare the blackout(s) to "normal" power failures you have experienced at other times?
because I had experienced "normal" power failures by spending summers in the mountainous region near the Delaware Water Gap (summer storms routinely knocked out our power, I was well prepared to know what to do and never fightened. I looked at both initially as big adventures. Later, I realized the 1977 failure was indicative of societal breakdown, and perceived it differently.
What affect, if any, did the blackout(s) have on your opinion of Consolidated Edison Company?
Mis-spelling should be Effect. None, really
If you experienced both the 1965 and 1977 blackouts, please compare them (describe the ways in which they were similar/different):
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:
Story #664, The Blackout History Project, 24 September 2006, <http://blackout.gmu.edu/details/664/>.
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