It wasn't the darkness - it was the despair.
How else could historians explain why a power outage - small by modern standards - became a seminal moment in New York history, the kind of where-were-you-when event that inspires passionate storytelling like 9/11 or the Kennedy assassination?
When people talk about the night the lights went out, they invariably are speaking about the July 13-14, 1977, blackout, even though the ones that came before or since were larger in scale.
This event - marked by looting and the flames of arson and unrest - defined New York for a generation and plunged the city that never sleeps into the darkest of nights.
"The whole era was a long low point in the city's life, and this was the absolute nadir," said Jonathan Mahler, author of the book "Ladies and Gentlemen, The Bronx is Burning."
Indeed, darkness had hit the city long before the power went out. New York was well into the throes of a financial crisis. Morale was low within city agencies, where layoffs - including at the NYPD - kept mounting.