Fires, Riots and Looting: Brooklyn During the 1977 Blackout

NYC Blackout 1977 Bed-Stuy Bushwick

The relatively peaceful blackout of 2003, which was 10 years ago today, was a markedly different experience from the last major New York power outage before it in 1977, when people famously looted, vandalized and committed arson. My mother was 22-years-old and newly married to my father when the electricity cut off; I asked her to tell me what it was like.

Where were you when the power went out?
In the dark! We went to a Richie Havens concert in Central Park, and we got on the train to go back home to Brooklyn, and the power went out. We were stuck on the train.

Between stations?
Yeah, which is like my worst nightmare! But the train pulled in. They got some kind of auxiliary power, and it pulled into the station. And they told everyone to stay in the station! And I was like, “ahhh! I’m getting out of here!” We actually had to run around the police officers to get out. And we go upstairs, and we’re like, “what are we gonna do?” We didn’t have any money or nothing. So we said, “we’ll walk home. We’ll just start walking home to Brooklyn.”

Where were you?
I don’t remember which stop it was. But we started walking and.. they used to have these Half Moon rides. It was a ride that would go up and down the streets and kids would pay a quarter or whatever to ride it. And it’s in the shape of a half-moon and it would swing back and forth. It’s like this ride is on the back of a truck, and it’s surrounded by a cyclone fence. So there was some guy screaming out the back, “we’re going to Brooklyn! Anybody need a ride?” And we’re like, “yeah! Yeah! We do!” So we jump inside this cage and the guy starts driving us to Brooklyn. He’s gonna park his truck in Downtown Brooklyn.

And we get to Downtown Brooklyn, and there’s riots going on! There’s fires everywhere; I saw some guy with a bloody head carrying a TV. I mean, it was terrifying. It was really scary. The noise… You know, people breaking windows. And I’m witnessing all of this from inside a cage, essentially. I’m driving through Downtown Brooklyn through this riot inside a cage. It was bizarre.


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