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The NYC blackout of 1977 happened 42 years ago today

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That blackout affected much of New York City and led to arson and looting in NYC neighborhoods

The NYC skyline during the blackout of 1977.
Photo by Allan Tannenbaum/Getty Images

In one of those bizarre coincidences that’s almost too strange to be true, the blackout that affected a large swath of Midtown Manhattan on Saturday happened on the 42nd anniversary of the massive citywide power outage of 1977.

That blackout began around 9:30 p.m. on July 13, 1977, and power wasn’t restored for 25 hours. Unlike this weekend’s outage—which has been confined to one section of Manhattan (albeit one of its most densely trafficked ones)—that blackout plunged much of the city into darkness.

The skyline went entirely dark, and the lights went out nearly everywhere: in the subways; at major transit hubs like Grand Central Terminal, stranding commuters; at places like Shea Stadium, where the Mets were forced to stop a game against the Chicago Cubs in the sixth inning; and in many of the city’s neighborhoods. In some places—perhaps most memorably, Bushwick and parts of the Bronx—the extended power outage led to looting and instances of arson.

Shea Stadium during the 1977 blackout.
Photo by Vic DeLucia/New York Post Archives /(c) NYP Holdings, Inc. via Getty Images
A view of 34th Street during the 1977 blackout.
Photo by NY Daily News Archive via Getty Images

It was caused by stress on the system after a series of lightning storms in Westchester County, but “human and mechanical error,” per the New York Times, exacerbated the issue.

The impact of the 1977 blackout was felt long after the lights came back on: The blackout cost the city more than $300 million, both directly and indirectly. In neighborhoods affected by burning buildings or looting, the recovery process was lengthy—in some places, it took years to recover. And the blackout led Con Edison to “move[] to avoid the mistakes that led to the blackout, adding sophisticated monitoring equipment and modifying the flawed procedures that drew public acrimony and thousands of lawsuits, some still unsettled,” according to a New York Times article from 1987.

The skyline seen from Brooklyn during the blackout of 1977.
AP Photo/Ray Stubblebine

It remains to be seen what the impact of this weekend’s outage will be—but luckily, it hasn’t spread throughout the city, and some of the lights are already coming back on.