In August of 1959, a blackout hit New York City. Power was out for 13 hours—not that long when viewed in retrospect. Though if you were in the middle of that blackout, and especially if you were operating a store that sold whipped cream and custard, (see photo gallery) you might have looked at it differently.
For its part, LIFE described the blackout in its Aug. 31, 1959, issue this way:
In the heart of glittering Manhattan island, a 500-block area lay swathed in darkness. Street lamps were out and no light shone from the many-windowed apartment houses. In their blacked-out homes, a half million new Yorkers made do without radio or TV. Those who ventured out found cafeterias taking on the candlelit airs of tea shoppes and taverns offering unrefrigerated beer without the usual juke-box blare. In the streets, people enjoyed watching police trying to unsnarl the minor traffic jams that resulted from the lack of traffic lights. Or they simply gathered in little groups to savor the strange aura of a seemingly lifeless city.
A massive failure had cut off almost all electricity in the section that bounded Central Park and for almost 13 hours the area was without power. The huge use of air conditioners and refrigerators brought on by a heat wave might have been the basic cause of the failure. When the lights went on, the city congratulated itself that there had been no panic and little misbehavior. In an area where crime incidence is fairly high, police reported only a few misdemeanors and a couple of picked pockets.
As a rule, photographers need good lighting to make their pictures, but in this case, a blackout created a notable exception.