Where were you at 5:27 p.m. on Tuesday, Nov. 9, 1965?
Many Citizen readers were not even born on that historic date, but there must be Bedford moms and dads (and grandparents) who remember the Great Northeast Blackout, when eight states and the province of Ontario lost power for 13 hours.
Most Bedford families were probably in the middle of preparing dinner, calling in the kids from outside (yes, that was when children played outdoors), while suburban dads were caught in traffic jams on the way home. This writer recalls just having given supper to a 15-month-old in her high chair when the lights went out; the older kids scampered around digging out candles and flashlights.
I don’t recall what we had for dinner – sandwiches, no doubt. I think we read for a while by flashlight, but ended up just going got bed early and hoping the power would be back on by morning.
Actually, Bedford fared very well. “No Serious Emergencies during the Big Blackout,” read the headline of the Nov. 18, 1965 edition of The Bedford Minuteman. Firefighters responded to the need for an emergency generator at Llewsac Lodge on Old Billerica Road. The VA Hospital with more than 2,000 patients and staff on the grounds, ran on emergency generators. Normal Boston Edison power was restored to most of Bedford at 12:22 a.m. on Wednesday. The kids did not get a day off from school after all. https://tinyurl.com/3axxayrw
Some areas within the region were not blacked out. Braintree, Hudson, Holyoke, and Taunton had their own municipal utilities that operators disconnected from the grid and were able to sustain local loads. One disturbing incident occurred at the state prison in Walpole when 300 prisoners rioted.
For some great photos of Bostonians making their way home during the blackout, see https://www.universalhub.com/2020/when-lights-went-out-bostonians-stuck-downtown.
Note the women are all in hats, stockings, and heels, and the men were mostly wearing hats.
In New York City, some 800,000 passengers were trapped on the subway until rescuers came to lead them out through the tunnels. The MBTA, according to reports, was not as widely affected as it had its own generator.
Some unfortunates were stranded in elevators for many hours until rescuers came. Surprisingly, New York City experienced almost no looting during the blackout. Subway riders were later commended for their good behavior during the ordeal. And despite predictions, the city birthrate did not skyrocket nine months after the incident!
Of course, no one knew the cause of the blackout and rumors soon began to fly. Maybe it was sabotage, or the Russians (this was the Cold War era), or “outside influences” (aliens or UFOs perhaps?). Not until later did we learn that the trouble started at a generating station in Queenston, Ont., near Niagara Falls, when something happened to a relay switch that sent power surging through the line, shutting off power in a cascade.
There’s a good technical description in Wikipedia about exactly what happened. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Northeast_blackout_of_1965
As a result of the blackout, changes were made to the whole system. The Electric Power Research Institute helped the industry develop new metering and monitoring equipment and systems that have become the modern SCADA systems in use today.