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.

New York City Blackout 1959

New York City Blackout, 1959.

Joe Scherschel Time & Life Pictures/Shutterstock

New York City Blackout 1959

New York City Blackout, 1959.

Joe Scherschel Time & Life Pictures/Shutterstock

New York City Blackout 1959

Original caption: “Candlelit automat provides dinner with a touch of old world atmosphere. Local storekeepers ran out of candles and flashlights in a couple of hours.”

Joe Scherschel Time & Life Pictures/Shutterstock

New York City Blackout 1959

New York City Blackout, 1959.

Joe Scherschel Time & Life Pictures/Shutterstock

New York City Blackout 1959

New York City Blackout, 1959.

Joe Scherschel Time & Life Pictures/Shutterstock

New York City Blackout 1959

New York City Blackout, 1959.

Joe Scherschel Time & Life Pictures/Shutterstock

New York City Blackout 1959

New York City Blackout, 1959.

Joe Scherschel Time & Life Pictures/Shutterstock

New York City Blackout, 1959.

Joe Scherschel Time & Life Pictures/Shutterstock

New York City Blackout, 1959.

Joe Scherschel Time & Life Pictures/Shutterstock

New York City Blackout, 1959.

Joe Scherschel Time & Life Pictures/Shutterstock

New York City Blackout 1959

Joe Scherschel Time & Life Pictures/Shutterstock

New York City Blackout, 1959.

Joe Scherschel Time & Life Pictures/Shutterstock

New York City Blackout, 1959.

Joe Scherschel Time & Life Pictures/Shutterstock

New York City Blackout, 1959.

Joe Scherschel Time & Life Pictures/Shutterstock

New York City Blackout, 1959.

Joe Scherschel Time & Life Pictures/Shutterstock

More Like This

history

The Nixons at Disneyland—with Clint Eastwood, 1959

history

Remembering the Historic All-Black “Hello, Dolly!” from 1967

history

A Place of Inspiration: Wordsworth’s England

history

Here’s A Mystery: Why Did Arthur Conan Doyle’s Son Dress Up Like a Knight?

history

New Year’s Football in Wartime Italy: The Story of the Spaghetti Bowl

history

Zip Service: When the Model Met the Mobot