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When NYC went dark in 1965: The Great Northeast Blackout in photos

It was the mother of all blackouts, plunging the city into an immobilizing darkness that would last for hours.

At about 5:27 p.m. on Nov. 9, 1965, a colossal power failure spread through the Northeast. While it lasted only one night, the Great Blackout of 1965 would profoundly affect how Americans viewed the vulnerability of their cities' power systems.

Electricity was knocked out for about 30 million people in about a half-dozen states including New York and two Canadian provinces.

In the city, more than 800,000 people were stranded on paralyzed subway trains underground, on bridges and between stations. Thousands more were stuck hundreds of feet above ground in disabled, stifling elevator cars. Meanwhile, teams of citizens helped police direct traffic and travelers at the city's major airports watched runway lights go off and their chances of catching their flights dim. The National Guard was called out.

In spite of this all, the city did not unravel in violence and looting. Many subway riders walked along darkened tracks to the next station and exited; elevators had safety devices that allowed them to be lowered quickly so that passengers could be let out. By about 3:35 a.m., power was restored to midtown Manhattan. Some parts of Brooklyn and Staten Island never lost power.

A survey taken of New Yorkers following the blackout found that "there is no evidence that they perceived any real or potential threat in the situation." The cause of the blackout was a faulty relay in Ontario, Canada, that sent a surge of power south that overloaded transmission lines.

Here are rare images from the blackout, showing how New Yorkers survived a night they would probably never forget.

Commuters at Penn Station in Manhattan line up
Photo Credit: Newsday / John Curran

Commuters at Penn Station in Manhattan line up to use the pay phones as they try to figure out how they will get home during the blackout on Nov. 9, 1965.

On November 9, 1965, just about the only
Photo Credit: Newsday / John Curran

On November 9, 1965, just about the only way to hear the latest news of the blackout was on a small transistor radio. Here four men on W 42nd Street lean in to hear the broadcast.

Three passengers take a free ride on a
Photo Credit: Newsday file photo

Three passengers take a free ride on a New York City bus on November 9, 1965 as a power blackout darkened the city streets.

Stranded commuters wait out the blackout at the
Photo Credit: Newsday / Jim Cavanagh

Stranded commuters wait out the blackout at the Park Avenue Armory on November 9, 1965. Governor Nelson Rockefeller had called up the 42nd infantry division in response to the emergency.

Blackout in 1965: Commuters scramble to get home

A large searchlight illuminates Penn Station in Manhattan
Photo Credit: Newsday / John Curran

A large searchlight illuminates Penn Station in Manhattan as commuters try to figure out how they'll get home during the blackout on Nov. 9, 1965.

Police direct traffic away from the entrance to
Photo Credit: Newsday / Bill Senft

Police direct traffic away from the entrance to the Midtown Tunnel, which was closed due to the blackout on Nov. 9, 1965.

A searchlight illuminates Seventh Avenue in front of
Photo Credit: Newsday / John Curran

A searchlight illuminates Seventh Avenue in front of Penn Station in Manhattan as commuters look for rides home during the blackout on Nov. 9, 1965.

Passengers aboard an Air Canada jetlineron the runway
Photo Credit: Newsday / Jim Maguire

Passengers aboard an Air Canada jetlineron the runway at JFK Airport socialize while sitting out the blackout that hit at 5:30pm on November 9, 1965, just as the plane was scheduled to leave for Montreal.

Emergency police work to free passengers stuck in
Photo Credit: Newsday / Jim Cavanagh

Emergency police work to free passengers stuck in an elevator in a building on East 32nd street during the blackout on November 9, 1965.

Blackout in 1965: JFK Airport taxi lines

Air travelers line up for taxis at John
Photo Credit: Newsday / Jim Maguire

Air travelers line up for taxis at John F. Kennedy International Airport in Queens during the blackout on Nov. 9, 1965.

During the blackout on November 9, 1965, hotel
Photo Credit: Newsday / Jim Cavanagh

During the blackout on November 9, 1965, hotel rooms were scarce in Manhattan and many would-be guests were forced to spend the night in places like the lobby of the Hotel Commodore on 42nd Street and Lexington Avenue.

The clock above the bank opposite the LIRR
Photo Credit: Newsday / Marvin Sussman

The clock above the bank opposite the LIRR station in Jamaica stopped at the time of the blackout on Nov. 9, 1965. Chemical Bank is now JPMorgan Chase Bank.

Blackout in 1965: Red Cross helps out

A Red Cross wagon offers coffee to stranded
Photo Credit: Newsday / Marvin Sussman

A Red Cross wagon offers coffee to stranded passengers at the LIRR station in Jamaica, Queens, during the blackout on Nov. 9, 1965.

Blackout in 1965: Stranded commuters

Stranded commuters take advantage of a new car
Photo Credit: Newsday / Jim Cavanagh

Stranded commuters take advantage of a new car on display in the lobby of Grand Central Terminal during the blackout on Nov. 9, 1965.

During the November 9, 1965 blackout, air traffic
Photo Credit: Newsday / Homer Hartness

During the November 9, 1965 blackout, air traffic in and out of JFK Airport was suspended. Here, Homer Hartness of Dover, Delaware holds his one-year-old daughter Denise as he checks the status of a flight that was bringing his wife back from London.

Passengers exit a stalled train on the LIRR
Photo Credit: Newsday / Marvin Sussman

Passengers exit a stalled train on the LIRR tracks in Jamaica during the blackout on Nov. 9, 1965. The embankment led to the street below.

On November 9, 1965, the blackout caused the
Photo Credit: Newsday / Jim Maguire

On November 9, 1965, the blackout caused the cancellations of many flights out of New York City, such as the Air Canada flight one this woman had boarded at JFK Airport earlier in the day, bound for Montreal.

Two National Guardsmen on duty stand outside the
Photo Credit: Newsday / Marvin Sussman

Two National Guardsmen on duty stand outside the Armory in Jamaica during the blackout on Nov. 9, 1965.

National Guardsmen from the 42nd (Rainbow) Division direct
Photo Credit: Newsday / Jim Cavanagh

National Guardsmen from the 42nd (Rainbow) Division direct traffic at the intersection of 32nd Street and Park Avenue during the blackout on November 9, 1965.

Weary commuters waiting for trains back to Long
Photo Credit: Newsday / John Curran

Weary commuters waiting for trains back to Long Island sleep on the floor of Penn Station in Manhattan during the blackout on Nov. 9, 1965.

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