Summer Of 1977 In New York City

Published June 13, 2016
Updated November 18, 2019

From the blackout to the .44 caliber killer, these photos of New York City in the summer of 1977 reveal a city on the brink of collapse.

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 heatwave, 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:

Avenue C
Young boys play in a fire hydrant in the Lower East Side's Avenue C. Camilo J. Vergara/ Library of Congress

New York 1977
45th Street in Midtown. Wikimedia Commons

Woman Sitting Street Summer
A woman sits along the streets.Camilo J. Vergara/ Library of Congress

Forth Of July
Residents of Brooklyn's Bushwick neighborhood sit in folding chairs, July 21, 1977. Allan Tannenbaum/Getty Images

Trash Can Fire Harlem
A child passes a blazing can in Harlem. National Archives and Records Administration

George Willig World Trade Center
George "Human Fly" Willig climbing the South Tower of the World Trade Center. Carmine Donofrio/NY Daily News Archive/Getty Images

Reggie Jackson
Yankees manager Billy Martin, and the team's strutting superstar, Reggie Jackson, nearly come to blows.NY Daily News Archive/Getty Images

Dancing Studio 54
A group dancing at Studio 54.Waring Abbott/Getty Images

Group Singing Studio 54
Stevie 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 Corkery/NY Daily News Archive/ Getty Images

Curtis Mayfield
Curtis Mayfield poses inside Studio 54.Richard E. Aaron/Redferns

New York Daily News Front Cover
Front page of the Daily News following the blackout.NY Daily News

At dawn on July 14, the Manhattan skyline shows no lights due to the blackout. Allan Tannenbaum/Getty Images

Walk Bridge
New Yorkers jam the Brooklyn Bridge on their way home after the blackout shut down the subway system.Underwood Archives/Getty Images

NYC Blackout
In Brooklyn, pedestrians stand on a street corner in the wake of the blackout.Robert R. McElroy/Getty Images

No Light But Liquor
In 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. Bryan Alpert/Hulton Archive/Getty Images

NYC Blackout brooklyn
Police officers and passersby stand in front of a damaged storefront, looted in the wake of the New York City blackout.Robert R. McElroy/Getty Images

Cops contain suspected looters at Grand Concourse and Fordham Road in the Bronx during blackout. NY Daily News Archive/Getty Images

fire bronx blackout
Aerial view of a building burning following the blackout in Brooklyn.Robert R. McElroy/Getty Images

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.

Son Of Sam
Serial killer David "Son of Sam" Berkowitz being taken into police custody on August 11, 1977. Fred R. Conrad/New York Times Co./Getty Images

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.

Son Of Sam
Mugshot of "Son of Sam."Hulton Archive/Getty Images

Next, taking some more stunning trips back in time to New York in the summer of 1969, then to the desolate 1970s, and finally to the drug-addled 1980s.

All That's Interesting
Established in 2010, All That's Interesting brings together a dedicated staff of digital publishing veterans and subject-level experts in history, true crime, and science. From the lesser-known byways of human history to the uncharted corners of the world, we seek out stories that bring our past, present, and future to life. Privately-owned since its founding, All That's Interesting maintains a commitment to unbiased reporting while taking great care in fact-checking and research to ensure that we meet the highest standards of accuracy.
Savannah Cox
Savannah Cox holds a Master's in International Affairs from The New School as well as a PhD from the University of California, Berkeley, and now serves as an Assistant Professor at the University of Sheffield. Her work as a writer has also appeared on DNAinfo.