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Thirty Years Ago Today – This Day In History, 1977: New York City Blackout

Wow. Was it really so long ago?

Thirty years ago today, on Wednesday, July 13, 1977, a blackout started in New York City that lasted overnight into the next afternoon.

I was seven years old at the time, and I remember the blackout somewhat. According to official reports, events leading to the blackout started at 8:37 PM, and the city was plunged into darkness at roughly 9:30 PM. My brothers and I were in our bedroom, reading by the light of the lamp on the bureau of drawers, when suddenly the light went out. I don't recall if we panicked or not. According to my memories, my father came into the room within seconds with a lit candle in a holder.

The 1977 blackout is infamous for the looting and riots that took place. Ensconced in our house in Forest Hills, Queens, none of that affected me. We got the news over a battery-powered radio and then somehow managed to get to sleep that night. My memory tells me that it was a hot night.

I don't recall much of the next day except that we did wait for the power to return. I do remember how we discovered that we had power again. I was outside, standing near the gate and tunnel that led into Forest Close, of which my house was a part. (Basically, the entire block consisted of houses that surrounded a locked in common area of grass and trees.) The tunnel contained a light, and although it was a bright mid-afternoon, we saw that the light had suddenly gone on again. We went back into our house, and sure enough, the power had returned.


From the New York Times City Room Blog:

Copyright © Michael A. Burstein


I recall that I had gone to bed before the lights went out and that my mother woke me and my brother to see (or not see) what was going on. Jackson Heights was as calm as Forest Hills, and we went outside briefly, as did most of our neighbors. I don't know why it wasn't pitch dark, but it wasn't.

We went back inside, went to sleep, and woke to find that by 7 am we had power. We were in the minority, so much so that when we turned on the TV, the only stations broadcasting were those in Connecticut, their signals not blocked by the NYC stations. I remember watching a Hector Heathcote cartoon that morning.

The blackout sticks with me less than the heat wave to follow. NYC would hit 104 degrees a week later.
My main memory of the blackout was that my dad had to work the next day in Jersey, while my mom and the neighbors organized a double pool party in our adjoining yards. This kept us kids cool, and allowed the moms to clear out their freezers of hamburger patties and ice cream before it all went bad. For some reason, I thought it went longer than just one day because I seem to remember two nights going to sleep by the light of oil lamps (my mom's house was decorated in Colonial style, so we had working oil lamps all around the house, and they came in pretty handy during the blackout). We were completely oblivious to the riots and looting until the whole thing was over.
I have vague memories of a blackout, but they're so vague it could have been a different (smaller) one. I also don't recall any news of looting/rioting or seeing their after-effects; we were living in Chelsea at the time.

December 2016

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