The night the lights went out on the Mountain Top

Contributed photoThe cover of the Nov. 9 1965 Life magazine.

One would be past middle age if they lived through the following. This event took place in 1965, not that long ago to some of us, others may have a different opinion! The following is a part of our town’s history and a larger part of New York State’s.

This event occurred on November 9, 1965, just 55 years ago.

The Windham Journal told us, “The residents of the Mountain Top living along the Rip Van Winkle Trail (23A) were among the 30,000 (that number later increased) people living on the east coast, from New Jersey to Canada, affected by the total electrical blackout Tuesday evening. They (Hunter residents) were out of power from 5:30 p.m. until 8:30 p.m.

The other side of the mountain, which includes Windham, Ashland, and Hensonville, encountered only a flickering of lights and then lost power for a short time. They were excluded from power failure, the greatest in the history of the nation. It was later disclosed the cause was from the breakdown of a switch apparatus near Niagara Falls.”

Sharing this reminded me of what I was doing at that exact time. I was leaving Albany, with my sister Nancy, when the blackout occurred. We were shopping in Albany when all of a sudden everything went black. The store went black, along with the entire city of Albany.

We were buying an anniversary present for our mom and dad, Bill and Mary Byrne, who were celebrating their 30th anniversary that night.

Nancy, in all her innocence, yelled, “they blew a fuse!”

Well, that fuse made Albany into a driving nightmare. Driving through the dark (remember, it was November) without any traffic lights was a challenge for an 18-year-old fairly inexperienced driver. Seeing the darkness of the Albany Hospitals was frightening, imaging the sick, the pregnant, the pre-op, and those emergency surgeries that were already taking place. Hospitals had generators, but certainly not like the efficient ones we have today.

Driving up the Clove Road that night, now known as the Justine L. Hommel highway, (the Rip Van Winkle Trail), we kept saying how dark the mountain road was without streetlights.

It wasn’t until we got to our parents that I realized there were never any streetlights on the mountain road. Mom and dad got a good chuckle out of that.

Driving into their driveway in Tannersville, my sister and I forgot about the mysterious blackout and thought how romantic that they were eating by candlelight. Wrong again.

A few tidbits.

It was 55 years ago, Tuesday November 9, 1965, at 5:27 pm that most of the upper east coast went black. The cause being a faulty relay at Sir Adam Beck station on the Ontario side of Niagara Falls in Canada. It sent a surge of power south, causing power overloads and automatic system shutdowns in New York, New Jersey, Connecticut, Massachusetts, Rhode Island, New Hampshire, and Vermont. In certain areas, the power was out for 13 hours.

It was but an exciting experience to live through it here in the mountains, but it was a nightmare in the cities. The New York Times reported, “Striking at the evening rush hour, the power failure trapped 800,000 riders on New York City’s subways. Railroads halted. Traffic was jammed. Airplanes found themselves circling, unable to land.”

There were very few cases of rioting, looting, or other crimes during the blackout despite the confusion. News articles told that, for the most part, New Yorkers shared flashlights and supplies and interacted with neighbors.

I’d like to again thank Historian Larry Thompson for sharing his old Windham Journal articles with me. Thanks, Larry.

Until next week, please take care, be thankful, and be kind. You never know how your act of kindness may change someone’s life. Stay safe and take care.

Johnson Newspapers 7.1


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