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1965 Twenty-five Years Ago

April 2024
1min read

The power in New York City went at 5:28 P.M. on November 9. In the Time and Life Building reporters finished their afternoon’s stories by the light of burning grease pencils. Customers caught in a dark midtown crystal shop were afraid to move for fear of breaking something expensive. Trapped in an elevator high inside the Empire State Building, a group of men sang and joked for more than five hours. Hundreds of New Yorkers took over intersections to direct confused traffic. According to one columnist, the first to produce flashlights in the crisis were the city’s prostitutes.

There were only ninety-six arrests citywide during the thirteen-hour blackout, and just two deaths: one heart attack from climbing stairs and one fall down a dark stairwell.

A power surge along the trip-conductor line from Niagara Falls to New York City was to blame for the blackout, which darkened eighty thousand square miles and affected thirty million people from Ontario to New York and throughout New England, excluding Maine. In New York City alone between six and eight hundred thousand subway riders were stranded. Theodore White wrote that week: “Luck, goodwill and a brilliant moon saved New York from disaster.”

In the weeks before their November 22 heavyweight title bout, Floyd Patterson refused to recognize the champion’s new religion and repeatedly called him Clay rather than his adopted Muslim name of Muhammad AIi. In return Ali questioned Patterson’s Catholicism, labeled him a white man’s challenger, and promised to “make him suffer” for his remarks. But the prefight arguing was less ugly and one-sided than the bout itself. “What’s my name?” Ali taunted, hitting Patterson and calling the black ex-champion “America’s white hope.” Patterson, overmatched and having reinjured his back early on, uselessly pursued the nimble champion until the referee stopped the fight in the twelfth round.

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