The New York City Blackout Of '77: Darkest Day Of A Dark Time

By | July 12, 2020

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Aerial view of a building burning in the wake of the New York City blackout, Brooklyn, New York, New York, July 14, 1977. (Photo by Robert R. McElroy/Getty Images)

In the summer of 1977, New York City was on edge when a blackout brought the city to its knees. The city had been in financial and social decline for years; its lack of money had caused it to cut some essential services, and many impoverished neighborhoods were suffering from neglect. The serial killer David Berkowitz, the "Son of Sam," had killed numerous New Yorkers and was still at large, terrifying the public with ominous letters sent to the police and journalist Jimmy Breslin. On top of it all, a record heat wave was in full swing. The '77 blackout was a tipping point; the panic saw looting and a surge in arson. New York City seemed to be imploding.

Lightning Shut The City Down

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The darkened skyline. Source: (

Although the Mid-Atlantic has suffered blackouts, the blackout of 1977 was the only one that was confined to New York City. A few parts of the city were not in the dark, namely some areas of Queens and anything that operated on its own generator. On Wednesday, July 13, at 8:37 p.m., lightning struck Buchanan South. This tripped two circuit breakers in Buchanan, New York. Then, lightning struck again, which led two other transmission lines to become overloaded. To bring the power back on, ConEd tried to bring a fast-start generation station online, but this was unsuccessful as no one was manning the station. Then, a third lightning strike. This strike occurred at the Sprain Brook substation in Yonkers.