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May 16, 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 inside my house, still in my Catholic School uniform, reading a book. The lights flickered, and went out. It was in the fall, so it was already dark/dusk even tho it was only around 5:00. We children were amazed, never having experienced any type of loss of power. Nearly right away my mom figured out it wasn't just our block. She had a transister radio and had on the news. She let us know that the blackout was all over the NYC area (and later up to Canada). But I don't remember being worried in any way. I remember thinking it was 'neat' and 'fun', exciting because it wasn't the same old routine. I think my Mom must have told us it'd be quite a while before the lights came on, and I thought how lucky it was that I hadn't done my homework right away, because now I had an excuse NOT to do it! I thought that was great!
We had a gas stove so mom was able to fix dinner. Don't really recall what it was, but probably something like grilled cheese sandwiches and tomato soup, or maybe Spaghetti-Os. I remember candles being lit in the dining room, and us pretty much gathered there to listen to the news while we ate. As we heard the extent of the blackout I realized what a huge area was affected, and I was amazed/impressed even though I was only 9 yrs. old (1 month short of 10)and in 5th grade. 5th grade was the year we had to memorize states/capitals, so I was aware of the area covered.
We made shadows on the wall...I read some more by candle light, thinking I was experiencing what Abraham Lincoln had! We (my brother 11, and sister, 7)played cards (War, Go Fish, Old Maid) to amuse ourselves.
When we had to go to the bathroom, my mom would accompany us upstairs with a candle. My grandmother stayed downstairs to supervise the other kids.
I don't recall if my dad had been able to call during the evening and tell my mom where he was and that he was making his way home from Manhattan where he worked?? I may be dreaming that?
At bedtime my mom accompanied us upstairs to get ready.
I remember waking up when my dad finally did get home, as he and my mom were coming up the stairs with a candle, talking about his experience. He managed to squeez onto buses and share taxi rides to get home. I'm thinking he said he even climbed on the back bumper of a bus, and hung on,at one point...but I may just be confusing that with news reports of people having done that?? If I recall correctly, he got home somewhere between 1 and 3 in the morn.
I seem to recall that the next day at school, some kids had done their homework by candle light. I especially recall one boy in particular who had done his "100 lines" of punishment! The teacher couldn't believe it! She told him she would have excused him, or given him a day's grace (I forget which), but he wasn't taking any chances he said.
Why did the blackouts happen, in your opinion?
It was something to do with a surge? And those workers who should have caught it and overridden something didn't?
What is your opinion regarding the general causes of power failures (blackouts)?
Technical difficulties/worker failure
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?
Because of the magnitude. And the lack of chaos/danger/harm that resulted (well, the '65 one anyway---I wasn't around for the '77 one)
How did the blackout(s) affect you?
The '65 affected me in that I thought it was neat, a fun adventure. I was a kid after all.
What happened to your perception of the blackout(s) when you heard the news about the full scope of the event(s)?
I was amazed, and impressed that so little harm came to people and businesses, etc.
How would you compare the blackout(s) to "normal" power failures you have experienced at other times?
In a way the '65 blackout didn't seem to engender the bad feelings that current blackouts/brownouts do now a days. I think it's because we are so much more dependent on electricity to power so much more (work related, as well as our luxuries/amenities).
What affect, if any, did the blackout(s) have on your opinion of Consolidated Edison Company?
I was too young to have thought about that.
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 remember stories of cooperation and trust in the '65 one. I was not living in NYC are during the '77 blackout, and don't remember it in much detail because I was in the military, and kind of isolated---didnt watch much TV, read newspaper. What little info I got came from radio, Time Magazine, and friends in the NYC area. However, I don't recall anything about devastating looting and arson. So I don't think it's true about '77. There may have been some, but I sure don't recall anything 'devastating'.
Story #75, The Blackout History Project, 16 May 2000, <http://blackout.gmu.edu/details/75/>.
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