Sunday, August 06, 2017


At dusk on November 9, 1965, the biggest power failure in U.S. history occurred as all of the State of New York, portions of seven neighboring states and parts of eastern Canada were plunged into total power failure. The Great Northeast Blackout began at the height of the rush hour, delaying millions of commuters, trapping 800,000 people in New York's subways, and stranding thousands more in office buildings, elevators, and trains. Ten thousand National Guardsmen and 5,000 off-duty policemen were called into service to prevent looting.

The blackout was caused by the tripping of a 230-kilovolt transmission line near Ontario, Canada, at 5:16 p.m., which caused several other heavily loaded lines also to fail. This precipitated a surge of power that overwhelmed the transmission lines in western New York, causing a domino effect tripping of additional lines, that eventually brook up the entire Northeastern transmission network. In total, 30 million people in eight U.S. states and the Canadian provinces of Ontario and Quebec were affected by the blackout. During the night, power was gradually restored to the blacked-out areas, and by morning power had been restored throughout the Northeast.
I was a student at the New York Institute of Technology, studying to achieve a Bachelor's in Advertising Design. The last class of the day was an Art History class and with the instructor's goodbye for the day was a warning of an Art History test the next day! This test was a difficult one that required looking at small pieces of an art object, a painting usually and identifying the whole work. There would be written responses to questions and it can be one of the hardest tests to take.

Driving home that night with some local buddies from my area, as we left the campus in Old Westbury, the traffic lights started to disappear as signals, soon street lamps and whole areas of stores, homes and public places lost their lights.

As we drove we realized things were at risk, driving would be dangerous, it was dark and the only lights visible were car lights. Speculation was rampant in the car of 2 art majors and one electronics major.

Such suggestions as: "Maybe the Russians were behind it", An invasion from Mars or some celestial entity made it happen, or that the end of the World had finally come! The great Northeastern blackout had arrived!

We tried the car radio, but nothing was on the air, people were roaming the streets trying to get information about a catastrophically event that just occurred.

Once we got home, snips of news were starting to materialize, the newspapers for one delivered and that is how we learned the truth. Then the radio from the cars started to report and soon by the next morning we knew from the TV news.

Since we had no lights during the evening, and nothing was restored until about 4:00 AM the next day, I could not study for the Art History exam scheduled for that day. Facing a failing grade I was angry, frustrated and settling for a failing grade on the test, it would be my first!

All day the discussion was the great blackout, the radio, TV, and classmates all pouring out their experiences of where they were when the lights went out. I think most of the guys wished they were with their girlfriends when it happened, but rush hour is where most of us were.

When I entered the classroom for the Art History exam, the instructor stood in front of the room, slowly scanned it and announced: The test will be postponed until next week!


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