Around 5:20 p.m. on Nov. 9, 1965, Boston blinked out as a quickly spreading blackout that started with a failed relay on a transmission line in upstate New York just five minutes earlier cascaded across the Northeast. Lights, radios and TVs went out, subway trains slowed and stopped.
As people slowly poured out of downtown offices and stores, of course they wanted to let the folks at home know - so they quickly formed lines with their dimes and quarters to use the one thing that was still working: New England Telephone pay phones, on a network that had its own generators not connected to the grid that collapsed that night.
The Boston Public Library's Brearley Collection has numerous news photos of a bygone Boston in the grip of a power failure that was not fixed locally until about 1:30 a.m. - after Boston Edison disconnected its system from the Northeast grid and slowly brought its own generators back online.
Only car headlights and the occasional emergency spotlight or flashlight - and, inside, candles - provided illumination downtown:
Boston's skyline was not quite as dense back then:
People crowded outside Filene's on Washington Street and along downtown streets:
On one subway car in the nascent MBTA system, only a photographer's flash illuminated riders:
With the train stopped, what else to do but read a newspaper?
Getting to the trolley in the dark:
Pay phones aren't the only thing missing from subway stations these days; you could also rent a locker to store your stuff for the day:
Computers? Without them, people could still do some business, as long as they had flashlights or candles.