Larchmont Gazette
1942 Year in Review


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April 9, 1942

SURPRISE TEST BRINGS SUDDEN BLACKOUT HERE

Residents Respond Swiftly To Alarm; Called Success By Local County Officials

Sirens wailed, whistles blew and lights dimmed until inky blackness prevailed as the communities here joined the rest of Westchester County in the second all-county blackout Tuesday night.

The test, lasting 77 minutes, was declared a success by local and county officials, despite the fact that there was no advanced warning. Word that the first “yellow” signal had been given spread rapidly through Mamaroneck, Larchmont in the unincorporated area after it was received at 8:03 PM.

Defense units shortly thereafter began mobilizing and by the time the final “red” signal came through at 8:49 P.M., auxiliary policeman, wardens, medical and transportation corps, another defense workers were on duty.

The usual number of “isolated instances,” where residents had left cellar or attic lights burning, or where smoldering brush fires attracted attention, were reported, but no serious incident arose, defense officials of the three local communities said.

A weird effect was obtained by the resumption of traffic on the Boston Post Road within about fifteen minutes after the original alarm through. The traffic, mostly outbound from New York, moved with dimmed headlights at speeds varying from 15 to 20 miles an hour.

Persons in taverns and other public gathering places remained indoors during the blackout, as did the patrons of the two local theaters. The management at each theater requested the patrons to remain indoors .

All Larchmont and the unincorporated area used telephones and messengers to summon defense workers to duty. Mamaroneck Village used the fire whistle signal 1-1-4, denoting a local emergency. It was sounded on the blue signal at 8:31 PM.

Devereux Satisfied

Advance word that the test would come Tuesday spread rapidly Tuesday through civilian defense channels but by 8:00 P.M. nine-tenths of Westchester’s residents did not know for sure when the signal would come.

Defense Council chairman Frederick L. Devereux expressed himself as satisfied with the results. He said that the excellent cooperation by all citizens was a “demonstration of democracy at work” and declared that other unannounced blackouts and mobilizations would be held to accustom residents to the procedures.

The yellow “alert” signal was flashed from the district at 8:00 PM and resulted in sending into the streets thousands of civilian defense workers who hastened to their posts. Thirty minutes later the second, blue warning flashed, followed at 8:50 by the red alarm.

The sky was overcast and starless as lights started to dim out. Some householders were prepared for the blackout and lights disappeared immediately. Soon street lights went out and within six minutes the cities and towns of the county were dark, with a pinpoint of light flashing momentarily from one place or another.

In many cases the tip-off on the coming test was the failure of wardens, of auxiliary police and others to show up at first aid classes and meetings.

Wardens On Job

A few minutes after the blue alert went out, as arm-banded wardens appeared, streets were filled with running men and women attempting to get home before the blackout came. All civilians not engaged in defense work were forced to remain off the streets for the 77 minutes of black-out.

L. Lawrence Liss, assistant deputy director of the State Defense Council, observed the practice from the top of the nine-story County Office Building in White Plains. He said it was an impressive show with 98 percent of the lights out in four minutes.

An audience of 5,000 attending the prizefights at the County Center were able to remain in the well-prepared building and the show went on uninterrupted. Most of them did not know when the blackout began.

Radio Carries Account

The radio provided a running account of the blackout, beginning with the wail of the siren at 8:51, continuing with the broadcast of reports from defense headquarters, and a news account at 8:22.

Most of the members of the Bronxville American Legion hold defense jobs, and Julian Bryan, invited to speak at their meeting Tuesday, found himself talking to an almost empty house. Most of the Legionnaires left the meeting when the alert was sounded..

All traffic was halted as soon as the alarms were sounded. After a fifteen-minute wait, authorities permitted trucks and automobiles on Routes 1 and 9, the Boston and Albany Post Roads, to continue. The roads were kept open so the trucks carrying food and war materials in and out of New York City would not be interfered with. Traffic moved slowly through Port Chester and Ossining, but was jammed in Yonkers.

Workers in defense plants experienced some difficulty in getting through the county. Several men in Bridgeport plants were halted frequently on their way north, and permitted to pass when they exhibited identification badges. Officials are considering giving such workers civilian defense insignia to use while crossing the county.

Two Crashes Reported

Two minor automobile crashes were reported. One was in Mount Pleasant. The second, in Newcastle, involved cars driven by civilian defense workers. No one was injured.

For black-out babies were born during the period. One, the daughter of Mr. And Mrs. George Heimerer, was born in saint Agnes Hospital, White Plains. Another was the daughter of Mr. and Mrs. George Polancci, born in New Rochelle Hospital.

The most exciting was the arrival of the daughter at the home of Mr. And Mrs. Harry Gordon in Peekskill as planned. The doctor arrived through the blackout just before 9:30, but Mr. Gordon had to leave the house he was an air raid warden.

A fourth baby was a son born in Mount Vernon Hospital at 10:00 to Mr. and Mrs. Frank J. Sutton Jr. of the Bronx.

Residents in the vicinity of fort Slocum heard a siren wail at 8:34 and many of them blacked out immediately. Twenty minutes later they heard many sirens and whistles sounding and turned on their lights, figuring the blackout was over. Wardens informed them that the blackout was just starting.

A check followed that the Army’s system at Fort Slocum is to blow the siren on the blue signal, to herald the alert. Then, when the red alarm comes through, the longest siren wails are sounded.

Trains Blacked Out

All over the county residents were forced to remain in railroad stations until the white all clear came through. Trains, most of them with headlights dimmed, deposited the passengers at the station, but buses and other transportation were tied up. Most people were good natured about it, it was reported by wardens.

Scarsdale failed to reply to the warning signals. The Scarsdale alarm went out, however, and it was discovered that it had acted on the police teletype system rather than on the civilian defense telephone system.

The town of Mount Pleasant’s warning center failed to telephone Westchester Penitentiary, warning center for the Grasslands Institutions. It sent a message to the chief wardens home, but he was not there. The holdup resulted in a lag of 17 minutes before the institutions responded to the yellow alert. Lights, however, were blacked out six minutes after the alarm was sounded.

Wardens all over worked like beavers as they reported on black-out effectiveness and warned persons who had lights showing.

Lights were slower going on than going out, and officials believe that many persons went to bed during the hour test.

White Plains beat the blackout deadline by a few hours and passed blackout regulations carrying fines for violators. The Hastings-on-Hudson Village Board passed similar ordinances during the blackout in their blacked-out meeting room.


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