Here’s an old story people keep asking about. It’s the story of how an electrical incident during a Christmas concert in Christ the King Regional High School in 1977 blew out half of Middle Village, Queens.
We had a lighting guy named Gene Hue. Gene Who? Gene Hue. He was sort of an apprentice to Tony Simulinas, our main lighting guy. He had “better ideas” about things that he knew nothing about. Our first clue to this was one night at practice for the play “Godspell” when he was rewiring the plug end of an extension cord. He asked Tony if he was doing it correctly. Tony followed the cord only to see the business end was plugged into a live outlet. There were other clues. We made up a jacket for him with a logo of a rubber chicken getting fried by lightning…..
Back to the Christmas concert…
There was a plug for all of the lighting circuits of the big stage in the CK Auditorium. The plug was 3 phase, 480 volts. It had a big plastic cover on it to insulate the wires from each other. At some point, Gene Hue decided there was no need for this plastic cover. The band went on stage, not knowing of this custom alteration. We were pretty loud. I fact, we were so loud that we caused the plug, which was no longer supported y the cover, to vibrate loose. Ironically, during the Deep Purple song “Burn”, the plug shorted out. I just happened to look over to that side of the stage, maybe for a cue to or from the band, and I see Tony Simulinas running at full speed toward the lighting box which was plugged in to that big 480 volt plug. He somehow spotted what was happening or just leaned of the custom work done by Gene. He didn’t make it.
The next few seconds seemed to take minutes to pass. The plug shorted and blew Tony all the way across the stage, right over the drums. Sparks, smoke and flames followed him. The audience thought it was part of the show and went wild. Frank Mediate, the drummer, kept playing for a few seconds, not realizing the rest of the band lost power. Luckily, we weren’t electrocuted from the power surge, but I lost my amp from it.
After we all realized that no one died and the crowd was cleared out for their own safety, we went to the main circuit breaker panel for the school. It was gone. There was a big black mark where it blew itself off the wall. Oh well, I guess the Christmas concert was over. So, we started packing up all the equipment when someone came in from outside to say half of Middle Village was without electricity. Even the traffic lights were out.
Everything was fixed by the time school started after Christmas vacation and all was almost as we left it. There was only one change. Gene Hue was banned from ever working with the band again and he was also banned from Christ the King’s theater dept or any other dept that had anything to do with electrical. Part of the ban was due to the fact that the band was initially blamed for the power outage. It was only after we proved we had nothing to do with the alterations to the electrical system that we were off the hook for the bill to fix things.
Believe it or not, that’s not the end of the Gene Hue saga. He was eventually banned from setting foot on the CK property. I don’t know the details, but I was told he once again caused a power issue and this time it caused a fire on the auditorium stage he was originally not allowed near.
So, there you go. That’s the story of how the lights went out in Middle Village in December of 1977.