Sunday, December 13, 2009

When the Lights Went Out

Do you remember what happened in the early evening of Nov. 9, 1965? Better yet, where were you when the lights went out? On that fall evening, a goodly part of the Northeast US and Ontario Province in Canadian suffered what is arguably the largest electrical blackout in US history, throwing an estimated 30 million people and 80,000 square miles into total darkness. The cause, human error, happened days before the blackout, when personnel incorrectly set a protective relay on one of the transmission lines between the Niagara generating stations in Queenstown, Ontario. The safety relay, tripped if the current exceeded the capacity of the transmission line, was set too low. The overload cascaded throughout the Northeast in a matter of minutes.

I was a senior at EHHS, working that evening at my after school job at Thatcher’s Drug Store. Along with Donna Skinner, Carol Christopher and Fred Walton, one or more of us covered the soda fountain and front register.

Thatcher’s was a place you could get a cup of coffee, a sandwich and even a warm meal blue plate special. When the lights went out, so did the coffee pots. In those days, cash registers were electric but we often used the manual override so customers could still get a pack of cigarettes or the afternoon paper. Unlike today where we have immediate access to news, in 1965 all TV and radio stations were off the air.

Mainly we sat and speculated. Did the Soviet’s attack us? Did someone run into a utility pole? Not until the next morning was the extent of the disruption reported. Talk about a peaceful evening! Maybe a blackout now and then wouldn’t be such a terrible thing.

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