By Marilyn Turk
For the past two years, I’ve been immersing myself in World War II history while writing The Gilded Curse, which came out in March 2016, and now it’s sequel that comes out next year.
I’ve discovered so many interesting facts about the era – strange to us now, but familiar to our parents or grandparents. One of the things that most impresses me about that period of history is the way the people of the United States (and Great Britain as well) supported the war effort in their everyday lives. Patriotism was at its highest, and everyone – from school children to homemakers to factory workers and farmers – contributed as they could, sacrificing comfort and more to demonstrate their loyalty to their country.
One of the wartime practices that affected many people, especially anyone who lived near the coast, was the requirement for blackouts or dimouts – putting out or covering all lights outside and many inside so the enemy would not see where to strike.
Here are some facts I discovered about the blackouts.
As early as the day after Pearl Harbor, the city of San Francisco went black after receiving a report of approaching enemy aircraft. Two days later on December 9, 1941, New York City sounded its first alarm.
To begin with, blackouts were ordered during air raid drills. But by March 1942, dimouts were required in coastal areas. An article in the March 12, 1942 East Hampton newspaper stated that "a 'Lights Out' order for Long Island has been issued by the Suffolk County Civilian Defense Council ... the plan is to reduce lights along the Long Island shore so as to eliminate the silhouetting of ships against a lighted background, which would be a very fine set up for enemy submarines operating offshore."
All outdoor advertising lights were shut off, including neon lights around buildings like diners and marquees. New York City dwellers tried to maintain their lifestyles in the dark. An example was written in an article in the New York Times, "The opening night of Ray Bolger’s new musical saw theatergoers completely baffled by the lack of … landmarks, as they felt their way from Sardi's to the Shubert Theater and back by an elaborate system of navigation based on the Braille system and dead reckoning…”
Car owners covered or painted over the upper part of their headlights.
Automobile drivers failing to dim their lights were subject to one-year jail terms and $5,000 fines.
Unfortunately, car and pedestrian accidents occurred because of the blackout, resulting in authorities reducing the speed limit to 35 mph at night, painting curbs white and in general, warning people to stay off the roads at night.
Blackout shades and curtains were bought or made to cover windows on homes and apartments to keep lights from shining outside.
Campfires were not allowed on beaches, and even cigarette smoking was not allowed outside at night. Most citizens readily complied, but for those who violated the regulations, they received fines or sometimes, jail sentences.
|Family listening to the radio (box on right)|
|Jack Benny broadcasting a radio show|
Due to the blackouts, Americans entertained themselves at home more than before. Books sold in record numbers as did the sale of playing cards that rose 1000 percent. Radio listening grew by 20 percent as they listened to their favorite big band entertainers like Harry James, Tommy Dorsey, and Glenn Miller, crooners like Bing Crosby or Frank Sinatra, or shows that starred Dinah Shore, Bob Hope, Red Skelton, Arthur Godfrey and others.
Do you know anyone who experienced the blackouts in World War II?
Marilyn Turk loves to study history, especially that of lighthouses and the coast of the United States. She is the author of Rebel Light, a Civil War love story set on the coast of Florida, A Gilded Curse, a historical suspense novel set on Jekyll Island, Georgia, in 1942, and Lighthouse Devotions - 52 Inspiring Lighthouse Stories, based on her popular lighthouse blog. (@ http://pathwayheart.com)