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Mae Rosenzweig
Blackout "Survivor"
5 August 1999

Interviewed by John Summers


Q-Let’s start with–where were you living in 65?

A-We were living in Bayside, Queens, which is part of New York City.

Q-And do you remember exactly where you were when the lights went out?

A-Yes, I was inside the subway. I worked in Manhattan.

Q-What did you do?

A-An administrator of disability programs.


A-And all the trains stopped.

Q-You were on your way home?

A-I was on my way home. It involved taking a train from lower Manhattan to 42nd Street, and then transferring to a train that went to Flushing, Queens, and then to a bus. I was on the first leg of the trip at that point. And there were no announcements, initially, of what the problem was. The trains all stopped.

Q-Was it a sudden stop? And the...


Q-Was it a sudden stop? Things just–were you jolted?

A-They stopped, yeah. The lights were on–you know, they have back-up power for lights. They’re not quite as bright as the regular lights, but there are lights. And we–I mean it wasn’t too unusual to get stuck in the subway. But then this continued for a long time.

Q-Do you remember about how long?

A-No, I don’t really remember. But it was probably over a half hour, which was kind of long. And some people were getting panicky and coming up with ridiculous explanations, like the city was bombed–things like that.

Q-Who were they saying was doing the bombing? Do you remember?

A-Yeah, I think they thought it was the Russians were bombing it. They were quite serious about it. Fortunately, there were other people who poo-poohed it.

Q-Were there any other good speculations like that?

A-No, not really. That was mainly the speculation–that there was a bomb. And, eventually, what happened was that the conductors worked their way through the trains, and told us that we could get--they would open the doors, and there was like a little ledge next to the train, in the tunnel. A little ledge. And you went out, and you could sort of creep along that ledge, until you came to the station. And then you could climb up on the station, and then get out of the subway. So eventually–it took a long time, because only one person could move along at a time.

Q-It was single file

A-Single file.

Q-Did they allow any particular people to go first?; women and children? Was it an emergency situation?

A-No, no. So there were really–I don’t remember any children being on the train. It was the evening rush hour. I mean the late rush hour, but you know, in Manhattan, there’s all kinds of waves of rush hours. And so I only remember working people. I don’t remember any children being on the train.

Q-And then you...

A-And then we proceeded to walk to the Queensborough bridge.

Q-How long of a walk was that?

A-It’s a substantial walk, yeah. It’s a number of miles.

Q-Did all the subway passengers go together?

A-Well, they were all walking–yeah. Some people stopped; there were restaurants that were--had no power but they opened and people went in and sat down and they had some food available. And then there were throngs of people walking across the bridge. And then when we got to the other side–by that time I had met a women who was walking with me and–who lived in Queens–and we managed to hail a cab, a private cab. And then we got a ride home. But it took quite a while.

Q-Besides restaurants being open, do you remember any other particular scenes from the street, walking?

A-Just that there were all these people walking. There was–there were no lights. And of course there were cars, but they weren’t really a great problem or anything.

Q-People took the news fairly calmly?

A-Yeah, other than these people in the train. They didn’t know what was going on; I think that’s what fed that. Once you got out, the word got around pretty fast as to what was wrong; that there was a widespread blackout. I’m not sure we knew that it was the whole Eastern coast, but it was, you know, clear to people that it was a blackout–a widespread blackout.

Q-Do you remember at what point you realized it was the whole Northeast?

A-I don’t think I realized that until I got home, and that was later.

Q-And so, were you fairly shocked at this event?

A-Well, you know, there were always situations where you got stuck in trains.

Q-What were some of the causes of being stuck in a train, before 65? Do you remember?

A-Yeah, just breakdowns of the engines

Q-Just normal mechanical failures.

A-Yeah, right.

Q-The half hour you spent in the train–was this the longest you’d ever been stuck?

A-It was probably the longest, yeah. Other than, you know, there were snowstorms. On the Flushing line that we used, the second leg of the trip–that was outdoors, and when it snowed heavily, you could see that you were stuck because of the snow. So, I don’t think it’s quite the same thing if you’re outside.

Q-Do you recall being in any way angry with the utility–with Con Ed?

A-No, I don’t recall that reaction. Now, of course, I look at it in retrospect–we live in Florida, and we have Florida Power and Light, and there usually aren’t blackouts for that long but there are a lot of situations where the lights go out.

Q-Before we get to Florida, if I could we could just--if I could just ask you. You were in New York for the 77 blackout as well. Is that right?

A-Yeah, I don’t have as clear a memory as I do of the earlier one. I guess it didn’t affect us as much. I’m not sure exactly–I don’t remember that one as well.

Q-Do you remember where you were living in 77?

A-Same place.

Q-No memories of the looting and the violence?

A-That really didn’t affect me because in either case, because I worked in the Wall Street area in Manhattan.

Q-In 77?

A-Both times. And where we lived–really that wasn’t a problem, of looting. That was probably in certain neighborhoods where there was a lot of poverty. That really didn’t occur in the neighborhood we lived in.

Q-And have you–so, now you moved to FloridA-When did you move to Florida?

A-About 83

Q-And since you’ve been there, have you experienced any major blackouts?

A-No major blackouts but there are a lot of temporary blackouts. They have a system where they have a device on your electric power, if you volunteer to do it, so that they can turn off the power selectively. In other words, they won’t turn off your refrigerator but they will turn off the air conditioner–if necessary in order to avoid everybody going out. And it helps some, since they’ve done that. But there’ve been brief blackouts, not major ones for long periods of time. The only major time we had was during the hurricane. And that’s understandable, I guess.

Q-Do you recall, in your time that you were in New York–especially between, say, 1960 and 1977–did you remember forming any particular attitudes toward Con Ed?

A-Well, they’re very inept. They have always hired a lot of people who had–I happen to know because of my business–that they hired a lot of people who were alcoholics, and had other problems. And were not really dependable people.

Q-Would you say that–is it your guess that that had something to do with their problems?

A-Well, I think--no I think all these blackouts, whether they’re brief or extended, have to do with an unwillingness to invest money in equipment, to have enough backup equipment to function even if there’s an emergency. Now, the other thing is, the area we lived in–in Bayside, Queens–the wires were overhead. And so every time there was a serious weather problem, that knocked out the electric power. So that was always a factor in it. That wouldn’t really have been a factor where I worked–there was no overhead power in that areA-

Q-Was there ever a time in your life when you lived without a lot of electricity? Or, let me put it another way, do you feel that over the course of your life electricity has–you’ve grown more dependent on electricity in various ways?

A-Oh yeah, that’s true. Because we have more electrical devices. Well, first of all, even at that time, during the blackout.

Q-Which one? 65?

A-Both of those blackouts. We had both electricity coming into the house, and gas. So the gas works even if you have no electrical power. That gives you another option, in terms of some things like cooking, and so forth.

A-What about when you were growing up? Did your experience of electricity change much over time?

Q-Just that we have more devices. But, no, really it was essentially the same.

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jts{27 June 2000}