Friday, July 14, 2017

A Thousand Stars: A Short Time Capsule Piece

It was a typical hot summer night in New York City. The Mets were playing at Shea Stadium, hosting the Chicago Cubs. Lightning flashed in the distance, and then suddenly, darkness. All over New York’s five boroughs the lights went out. Lighting strikes had overloaded the power grids, plunging the entire city into darkness. It was just after 9:30pm. It was July 13th, 1977, exactly forty years ago tonight. Subway trains stalled. Elevators stopped. Thousands of folks were suddenly stranded!

What commenced over the next 25 hours as city workers strived to get the power back on, was sadly a night of looting and arson fires breaking out all over the city, as the mid-70’s economic downturn was fully coming to a head. Eventually folks were evacuated out of the subways, but then busses became over-crowded, and streets became unsafe because of the looters, so many sought shelter in hotels around the city, causing some to have to sleep in the lobbies on the floor once rooms filled up. There was even a tragic murder committed, of a young 17 year old fella living in Brooklyn. It was a murder that to this day, has never been solved. Much of that night was shrouded in mystery, but it is a night of famous American folklore.

Despite all the ugly taking place around the city, New Yorkers had a chance to see the the stars and Milky Way in a way they never had before. Once the clouds cleared from the electrical storm, the sky was ablaze with thousands of stars normally not visible due to New York’s high light pollution and normal factory pollution, which had ceased due to the lack of power. The beauty of that summer sky stood in stark contrast to the depravity taking place down below.

Much like with the Northeast Blackout of the summer of 2003, which was far more widespread and reached where I live here in Cleveland, OH (the stories of which I plan to recount next summer for the 15th anniversary), people were treated to a night of sky viewing that few people have the opportunity to do these days.

That lone magical part of the blackout story is what has drawn writers to occasionally work this story into their movies, television shows and books. It was author Brian Selznick’s 2011 novel “Wonderstruck” which works this famous date into it’s story line, that first clued me into doing some research into this famous New York City event, and why I choose to take a small moment to write about this date, to feed my history junkie side. It was the true night people saw ‘the lights go out on broadway” as Billy Joel once sang.

Hope you enjoyed this time capsule.

Here is a link to the New York Times online tribute to this event. Lots of great memories from folks who lived through this night of darkness.

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