One of my earliest memories from growing up in Greenpoint was the Blackout of 1977. This blackout was certainly not the biggest in number of outages. In 1965 there were 30 million people in the dark, and in 2003 there were 45 million across eight states. But these outages only lasted several hours, and people were relatively well behaved.
In 1977, 9 million residents of the greater New York metropolitan area were in the dark for 26 hours. And it was an uncertain 26 hours with looting, fires, and lack of services. For me, it was scary and fun at the same time. Here’s a few paragraphs from the middle of the chapter titled, “The Blackout of 1977.”
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Excerpt from Growing up Greenpoint by Tommy Carbone – –
My mother, sister, brother and I gazed out on our blackened street. Our four heads squeezed next to each other in the window. How different it looked. The street lights shed no light. There was no color. Everything was a dingy gray. The cars, trees, and even the houses all became shadows, one dimensional. The only colors visible on the entire street came from red dots of cigarettes, slowly rising to the mouths of the blackened silhouettes. Between puffs the yells began – stoop to stoop, aria to aria.
“What the heck is happening?”
“Joe – any idea what’s going on?”
“Are you guys out of electric too?” (As if electric was sold in a carton, like milk.)
“The whole block is out.”
“The park lights are out too!”
“Must be a transformer.”
“All of Greenpoint is out!”
“No! It’s all of Brooklyn!” shouted a voice from above us, somewhere on a roof.
“It’s the entire city. Look over at Manhattan, it’s completely blacked out,” added a shadow on a roof across the street.
“Maybe it’s the entire State.”
Not to be outdone, some wise guy (possibly literally) yelled, “It’s the whole country. It’s the damn communists!” (This was 1977 of course.)
My mother pulled me away from the window. It was bad enough the cold war had us doing weekly drills, hiding under our small wooden classroom desks to protect us from nuclear radiation fallout, she didn’t want me to hear it on my own street too. Besides we had no school desks in our apartment to hide under if a warhead was headed our way at that very moment.
A single siren approached and then faded away down Nassau Avenue. My Dad came back up to our apartment and turned on the battery-operated radio. No sound or static came out. Those batteries were dead too. It took him another fifteen minutes, through trial and error, to find a set of four from the freezer bag that had enough power to bring the radio to life.
Contemplating his pile of dead batteries, he said to Mom, “The rest of these batteries are only good as a weapon.” He grabbed two old tube socks, taking his time to find a pair without holes, and pushing one inside the other he loaded up. Nothing like hitting an intruder upside the head with a sock full of frozen D’s. As I watched him load the socks I got the feeling it wasn’t the first time he charged up a pair for a battle.
Thirty minutes later the radio station announced that parts of the city had erupted into chaos. A reporter was reading reports of looters breaking into stores and stealing TV’s, radios, food, furniture, and even washers and dryers.
I asked wondering what was going to happen to us, “Dad, are the looters going to come here?”
“No. They’re robbing stores. We don’t have anything they would want,” he replied. I noticed he was still grasping the battery socks.
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The story continues on how we dealt without power for two nights and how us kids kept busy. I don’t repeat the history of the blackout itself, so if you didn’t live through the darkness, the best summary I found is located here from PRI. There’s an audio file and two videos. Check it out.
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Growing up Greenpoint, my memoir about 1970s Brooklyn, is available on Amazon.