Hometown History #109: The Great Northeast Blackout of `65


Ranked up there with events like Pearl Harbor, the Kennedy Assassination and 9/11 is the Great Northeast Blackout of 1965. Then, as now, power systems were often stretched to the limit by demand. Special protective circuits were designed to ensure the biggest components didn’t exceed their design capacity. So, when one particular area of Ontario demanded too much power, the protective circuit shut it shutdown. And, in a chain reaction, generating capacity no longer transmitted along that route surged into other parts of the Northeast grid of interconnected generating systems, causing similar circuits to trip and forcing several generating plants to shut down entrely to avoid damage.

The process took just a few minutes to cascade from Ontario to New York, Pennsylvania, New Jersey and the New England states, excluding Maine. In New York City some 800,000 subway riders were trapped. Much the same happened in Boston.

Surprisingly, though, in New York City, the event saw some of the lowest crime reported on record, and only a handful of incidents of looting.

Franklin, weathered the storm, too – but its police department nearly got embroiled in a massive riot a few miles away.

We quote the Sentinel of Nov. 11, 1965.

Sentinel-area towns, possibly hardened by the hurricanes which have knocked out power periodically during the past decade, reacted calmly to the blackout which plunged the northeast into darkness Tuesday night.

Police and firemen stayed alert during the course of the huge power outage while householders indulged themselves in unscheduled candlelight dinners while waiting out the emergency.

Franklin police, who functioned through the use of emergency generator power, were alerted on a standby basis for possible duty at Walpole State Prison [renamed Cedar Junction, in more recent years, at the behest of Walpole residents-ED], where riots broke about among maximum security prisoners. However, the services of the local department were not required.

More than a dozen members of the town’s auxiliary police force, joined by six off-duty regulars, rode cruisers and patrolled the streets to prevent the eruption of any incidents which might have developed during the blackout.

Chief Arthur C. Pellegri said no emergencies or acts of vandalism occurring during the emergency.

Prison Riot

At Walpole, 300 hardened criminals raged through the maximum-security section for more than four hours before returning to their cells. The power failure occurred while the inmates were being returned to their cells following the evening meal.

A detail of men from the Wrentham police department journeyed to the prison to help state troopers put down the riot. The most serious incident [during the blackout] in Wrentham was a furnace backblast at the home of Mr. and Mrs. Harold Stahl of 215 Everett Street. The blast occurred when the power returned, igniting fuel which had accumulated in the burner.

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It took some 13 hours to finally bring all the region's generating systems back up and restore all of them to the same 60 Hz beat.

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