A few weeks ago a FaceBook friend reminded everyone reading his timeline of the NYC Blackout of 1977… 38-years have passed since then and I really never thought of it since. Now the song “WhereWere You When the Lights Went Out?” keeps running through my mind NON-STOP.
On July 13, 1977 the lights went out in New York City. I had already moved upstate, but my newly widowed mom AND my newly widowed mother-in-law lived in the Bronx; we made the trek into the city to do whatever we could for each of them. Both ladies were fiercely independent and had everything under control, they didn’t need any rescuing — as a matter of fact my mom, disabled and all, let the other tenants of the building she lived in know that she had a fresh, large box of Shabbos candles and anyone who needed to light their way only had to knock on her door. She even had a semi-party going having made a full pot of coffee and inviting several neighbors in.
I do remember the Northeast Blackout of 1965 very vividly; it was a Tuesday afternoon in November, the Cold War was everyone’s great fear and the Cuban missile crisis was still a recent memory. I was running an errand for my mom and I stopped in at the local candy store for a newspaper when the lights blinked and then went out. Leaving the dark store behind me I noticed frantic neighbors running on the block. One of the women was crying and lamenting aloud that the Russians must be attacking. Another was convinced the UFOs would soon appear. In everyone’s mind we were in imminent danger. At 11-years of age I wasn’t panicked until I started listening to the adults around me, then I got scared; I ran home and up three flights of stairs to be with my mom.
She was calm. She had already pulled out a battery operated radio and was listening intently to the new reports — the blackout had affected most of the northeast and all the way up to Canada down to the Jersey shore and as far west as Pennsylvania. Ever the planner she had already pulled out her Shabbos candles and had them ready through the apartment as soon as the sun went down. My sister came home from high school (by bus) and soon my dad, working in New Jersey, traversed his way home as well. Daddy was a member of the local Civil Defense unit (precursor to the NYC Auxiliary Police) and, after assuring that his wife and daughters were okay, he went to the local police precinct for assignment. While my dad was part of a team rescuing commuters from stalled trains, Mommy had my sister and me going door to door in our building and handing out Shabbos candles to anyone who needed. Not really aware of food spoilage, we enjoyed peanut butter and jelly sandwiches for dinner and rested after delivering candles and relaying the news reports throughout our building.
In August 2003 the lights went out again during another widespread Northeast blackout. I had been working at a county library and WAS preparing for a musical show we were hosting (needless to say that was postponed). After helping to shut down the library branch and trying unsuccessfully to reach my 19-year old son who was having a blast at a south New Jersey amusement park which apparently had its own emergency generator, I drove home rather nervously without the comfort of traffic lights. Hubby and daughter also made it home only to head out again with our local ambulance corps on mutual aid into New York City; several corps sent rigs to the city when they asked for help and drove caravan style on the Jersey Turnpike to the George Washington Bridge (and got stopped by a State Trooper for speeding!). Meanwhile the son made it home without incident, he did however notice that all the lights were out when he and his friends left the amusement park.
While all of this was going on I was checking with all of my neighbors to make sure that they all had, you guessed it, Shabbos candles to light their way through the night.
|Vintage Philco Transistor Radio|
photo by Joe Haupt