On the evening of July 13, 1977, two lightning strikes just north of New York City led to a massive blackout that plunged the city into darkness.
The lights went out, elevators stalled, and subways ground to a halt. Looting and arson broke out, over a thousand fires were reported, and more than 1,600 stores were damaged or ransacked. The Mets-Cubs game at Shea Stadium ended in the bottom of the sixth inning. The light-filled city became a black pit.
Elsewhere in New York’s summer of 1977, a sweltering heat wave, financial downturn, rising poverty and inequality levels, paranoia about the Son of Sam murders, and the shining lights of Studio 54 took hold of the city.
Likewise, as fires burned down much of the Bronx, hip hop began to rise from the ashes. In fact, the looting of music stores during the blackout enabled people who couldn’t afford turntables and mixers to gather the equipment they needed to become DJs.
Check out some compelling photos from that uneasy summer in New York City:
Camilo J. Vergara/ Library of Congress Young boys play in a fire hydrant in the Lower East Side's Avenue C.
Wikimedia Commons45th Street in Midtown.
Camilo J. Vergara/ Library of Congress A woman sits along the streets.
Allan Tannenbaum/Getty ImagesResidents of Brooklyn's Bushwick neighborhood sit in folding chairs, July 21, 1977.
National Archives and Records AdministrationA child passes a blazing can in Harlem.
Carmine Donofrio/NY Daily News Archive/Getty ImagesGeorge "Human Fly" Willig climbing the South Tower of the World Trade Center.
NY Daily News Archive/Getty ImagesYankees manager Billy Martin, and the team's strutting superstar, Reggie Jackson, nearly come to blows.
Waring Abbott/Getty ImagesA group dancing at Studio 54.
Richard Corkery/NY Daily News Archive/ Getty ImagesStevie Wonder (at piano) jams with Stephen Stills (with drum), Stephanie Mills, and Teddy Pendergrass (behind Wonder) for New York secretary Mary Ann Cummings and 300 guests on her birthday at Studio 54.
Richard E. Aaron/RedfernsCurtis Mayfield poses inside Studio 54.
NY Daily NewsFront page of the Daily News following the blackout.
Allan Tannenbaum/Getty ImagesAt dawn on July 14, the Manhattan skyline shows no lights due to the blackout.
Underwood Archives/Getty ImagesNew Yorkers jam the Brooklyn Bridge on their way home after the blackout shut down the subway system.
Robert R. McElroy/Getty ImagesIn Brooklyn, pedestrians stand on a street corner in the wake of the blackout.
Bryan Alpert/Hulton Archive/Getty ImagesIn the midst of the blackout, a restaurant owner writes a sign to advise customers that there is no food or lights inside, but lots of liquor.
Robert R. McElroy/Getty ImagesPolice officers and passersby stand in front of a damaged storefront, looted in the wake of the New York City blackout.
NY Daily News Archive/Getty ImagesCops contain suspected looters at Grand Concourse and Fordham Road in the Bronx during blackout.
Robert R. McElroy/Getty ImagesAerial view of a building burning following the blackout in Brooklyn.
Looters young and old leave an A&P supermarket at Ogden Avenue and 166th Street in the Bronx through a broken window. Authorities arrested thousands of looters in at least three boroughs of the city.
Fred R. Conrad/New York Times Co./Getty ImagesSerial killer David "Son of Sam" Berkowitz being taken into police custody on August 11, 1977.
In the summer of 1977, the NYPD discovered a handwritten letter near the bodies of Esau and Suriani, addressed to NYPD Captain Joseph Borrelli. With this letter, Berkowitz revealed the name "Son of Sam" for the first time.
The press had previously dubbed him "the .44 Caliber Killer" because of his signature weapon. The letter was initially withheld from public view, but some of its contents leaked to the press, and the name "Son of Sam" rapidly eclipsed the old name.
Hulton Archive/Getty ImagesMugshot of "Son of Sam."
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