Time stood still “the night the lights went out” in New York City. At approximately 5:27pm (EST) on November 9, 1965, darkness fell over New England, New York State, parts of other states as far west as Michigan, and across the Canadian border into Ontario (over 80,000 square miles).
Over 30 million people lost power that evening, including more than 800,000 people stranded on paralyzed subway trains underground. Some areas remained powerless for up to 13 hours.
Without electricity, communication was spotty at best. Battery-opperated radios brought broadcasts assuring the public they were safe, and news papers from New Jersey tried to fill the information void on the morning of November 10. Though the people of New York City were unable to switch on their television sets, broadcasts were sent to surrounding areas utilizing emergency power.
This NBC News Special Report with Frank McGee in New York City provides an inside look at both the perils and pleasures of the strange circumstances surrounding the blackout, including eye-witness reports.
The people of New York have taken it [the blackout] by and large with good grace. ⎯ Frank McGee, NBC News
Though most New Yorkers remained in the dark about the cause of the blackout, eventually the truth was discovered. The especially cold weather in Ontario, Canada, on November 9 had caused the electrical systems in Ontario to run at peak capacity. A small variation of power coming from the interconnected power lines in New York then caused a faulty relay in Ontario, overloading both Ontario and New York grids, resulting in the mass blackout.
Though the science and story behind the blackout was simple, the stories of the citizens left in the dark sparked conversations for years to come. Everyone had a story about where they were when power went out, who they were with, what they had to overcome. Favorite TV shows and movies such as Where Were You When The Lights Went Out? would spoof the urban legends that resulted from the blackout for years to come.
And the 1965 Northeast blackout still inspires our stories today.
Ensemble Theatre Cincinnati begins its 2018-2019 Season with the charming regional premiere of Fly By Night, playing September 1-29. Written by Kim Rosenstock, Will Connolly, and Michael Mitnick, this enchanting musical sparkles with humor and heart as two sisters follow their stars to New York City’s stage and food service industry where the light of love leads to unexpected discoveries about fate and fortune.
In this darkly comic rock-fable, a gypsy prophecy propels melancholy sandwich-maker Harold and two bewitching sisters through a star-crossed journey of love and connection. Featuring a catchy score and inventive story-telling, this sweeping ode to young love culminates during the Northeast blackout of 1965 and is a tale about finding light in a world beset by darkness.
In this interview, the writers of Fly By Night share how the 1965 Northeast Blackout inspired the story:
We were around for the 2003 blackout, which I think was a loose inspiration for us. I think we all realized it was something that connected us… It connects us to our parents and the previous generation (which is a major theme throughout the show⎯parent to child relationships), and talking to the Baby Boomers about their experience. And while it was a different circumstance and a different time, there are a lot of overlaps, and a lot of things are timeless about that experience. ⎯Will Connolly
Performances of Fly By Night run Tuesday through Sunday. Tuesday-Thursday, 7:30 pm; Friday and Saturday, 8:00 pm; Saturday and Sunday, 2:00 pm; and Sunday, 7:00 pm. A complete calendar of performances is available online at www.ensemblecincinnati.org.
Visit these sources for more information about the 1965 Northeast Blackout: