Fifty years ago, on Nov. 9, 1965, a blackout hit the Northeastern United States and part of Canada, plunging about 30 million people into darkness overnight. The power outage hit at evening rush hour, causing logistical headaches for commuters and emergency personnel both on and off Long Island. The following article appeared in Newsday on Nov. 11, 1965.
Long Island was out of the dark and back into the wonderful world of electricity yesterday as lights lit, railroads rolled, toasters popped and the big blackout was, everyone hoped, gone forever.
The blackout was over, sure. But the darkness that blackened Nassau and Suffolk counties Tuesday for as much as eight hours was the Island’s No. 1 topic of conversation yesterday. Worried homeowners jammed department and hardware stores and bout out stocks of flashlights, candles, sterno stoves, kerosene lamps, batteries and bulbs. They were worried, they told store owners, that it might happen again, and they wanted to be prepared.
“Everyone was talking about the blackout and said they were worried it would happen again tonight, so they bought everything in sight,” said Bert Levy of Handy Andy Hardware in Stewart Manor. Levy said he was cleaned out of flashlights and hundreds of plumbers’ candles that he had stocked up on several years ago during a hurricane season. Said Frank Maier of Friendly Accessory Store in Amityville; “You name it and they bought it. Everyone talked about the blackout and wanted to replace the batteries and bulbs and candles they used up Tuesday night.”
The Long Island Lighting Co. reported that it was once again supplying current to the 700,000 homes and businesses it serves and that its operation was back to normal. With electric power restored, the Long Island Rail Road, which had ground to a halt at 5:28 PM, started rolling again slowly yesterday morning, picked up steam by midafternoon and was just about back on full schedule last night. The LIRR said that 95 per of the 650 daily trains were on schedule by late yesterday afternoon. A spokesman said westbound runs in mid-morning were 40 to 50 per cent on schedule because many of the trains that make that run had been stuck at Pennsylvania Station in Manhattan during the blackout. Crew assignments were also upset by the blackout, the spokesman explained, “We had trains and crews at the wrong place at the wrong time,” the spokesman said. He said that 10 LIRR trains were stuck at Penn Station or in the tunnel when power shut off. Power was resumed at 6:30 AM yesterday. The railroad was expected be to fully on schedule today.
Nassau and Suffolk police said that traffic signals in both counties were working normally and that no serious traffic snarls or accidents had been reported. The Broadway Maintenance Corp., which has contracts with Nassau County and many Long Island communities, said it had trucks out yesterday adjusting signals and lamps whose timing mechanisms had been upset by the power failure. A company spokesman said the bulk of the county’s signals and lamps were operational by last night.
A spokesman for the New York Telephone Co. reported that from midnight Tuesday to 7 AM yesterday the number of calls was 250 per cent above normal. The deluge of calls caused slight delays in getting a dial tone. During the day, the number of calls frequently doubled the normal load, the spokesman said. The company, which serves 700,000 customers in Nassau and Suffolk, was able to maintain service during the blackout with its backup power, he added.
In Nassau, although the lights were on, Hempstead Town Presiding Supervisor Ralph G. Caso, a Republican, said he still was in the dark about why it took more than 30 minutes for Nassau’s civil defense director, Joseph A. Bulger, to find the key to the shed housing the emergency generator for CD headquarters in the county courthouse in Mineola. Caso said that, as vice chairman of the board of supervisors, he would ask Bulger to account for the key incident. Nassau County Executive Nickerson, a Democrat, could not be reached for comment. Bulger said yesterday that he was taking steps to make sure that at least six members of his staff know where the key is located and how to start the generator.
The key, unmarked, was found hanging on a fuse box next to the main switch. Bulger, first to arrive at 6:30 PM at CD headquarters and several other CD officials groped in the dark with flashlights trying keys on Bulger’s keyring in the shed door, but none of them worked. “I thought I had the key on my ring, but I was wrong,” Bulger said. He said he didn’t break the door down because he had heard on his commercial radio that the blackout was not a national emergency. “In time of war,” he said. “I would have broken the door down and started the generator myself.” The door was finally opened just before 7 PM when Ray Smiley, the “Attack Warning” director, showed up with a key.
Civil defense operations during the long blackout also came in for some criticisms and questions in Suffolk yesterday. Suffolk Executive Dennison said that operations were generally very good, but said, there are deficiencies that need correcting. Only three of Suffolk’s 10 town supervisors had gone to town CD headquarters. Dennison said, although plans call for the supervisors to head CD operations in their towns. Delays in setting up communications and in activating emergency generators should also be corrected, he said. Dennison said that he would meet soon with Edward H. L. Smith, county civil defense director, to discuss the blackout and give some phases of the CD operations “a long, hard look.”
Smith yesterday appeared before the board of supervisors, which was reviewing Dennison’s proposed 1966 budget, and asked the supervisors to restore about $4,400 to the CD budget for improving communications. Dennison last week slashed the money from Smith’s budget. Dennison said yesterday that he now believes that the money should be restored. Smith said that the money would be used to set up teletype contact with all towns and state CD headquarters in addition to the voice contact now maintained. Smith also took the opportunity before the board to praise “everyone, Civil Defense, county police and fire services for doing a magnificent job” Tuesday night.
Dennison, in his criticism of CD operations, said: “If, for example, we had had a major fire, or some other emergency, we might have had to work with underlings in the operation. The operation might not have been as effective as it would have been if the executive officers (supervisors) were in charge,” Smith later supported Dennison to some extent by saying that the absence of some supervisors from the civil defense headquarters could have mattered if the emergency had become more serious. But he said that all supervisors could have been reached if needed, since all were keeping in touch periodically by phone.
Three supervisors, john V. N. Klein of Smithtown, Edward Ecker of East Hampton and Robert Vojvoda of Riverhead, said yesterday that they remained at their headquarters. The others said that they had their town CD operations under control at all times. Said Babylon Supervisor Gilbert Hanse, “What did he (Dennison) want us to do, call him up and ask him how he was?”
Dennison, questioned at his office also said that the delays in activating generators and in establishing communications “might have spelled the difference if there had been a major fire or an insurrection or other emergency.
John t. Morris Jr., 41, of 178 Siegel Blvd., Babylon, an employee of the Davis Publishing Co. of Manhattan, arrived home at 8:30 AM yesterday, about 16 hours after leaving work. His subway train was stranded in the middle of a tunnel under the East River for five hours. At 10:30 PM a police-firemen rescue team led the hundreds of passengers over the tunnel tracks by lantern light. Morris, a Babylon Village trustee, said he was in a group led out an emergency exit near the Battery. He walked about 30 blocks to Penn Station and then had to wait all night for a train home.
“It was rough going. I wouldn’t want to go through it again,” he said. He said there was no panic in the train during the long wait under the river but that several women appeared tense. “We didn’t know until we got out of the tunnel that it was more than just a subway breakdown,” Morris said.