The Princeton J. Press Wartime Blackout Riot

As Richard Press has written here, J. Press’ Princeton store didn’t last long after Pearl Harbor. It was still around in April of 1942, however, when Princeton held a wartime blackout. The idea was to practice turning off all lights so that if there were an enemy bomber, they wouldn’t have anything to aim at. As the Prince reported, “Street lights were extinguished immediately. All traffic stopped. Dormitory lights on the Campus as well as lights in town residences went out instantly.”

J. Press was late to the game, however, and caused a riot in town: “The store lights in the front window of J. Press on Palmer Square were a few minutes late in going off, and an angry crowd of some 300 students rushed to the spot shouting ‘smash his windows.’”

A week later, the paper printed J. Press’ explanation:

The failure to turn out the lights promptly in the J. Press store on Palmer Square during the blackout which took place Tuesday before last was not the fault of the management, it was revealed yesterday by Louis Prager, head of the local branch. As the result of an oversight the watchman responsible for turning out the lights neglected to do so for some little time after the blackout began.

Within a year, the lights would go out at J. Press’ Princeton store for good. Whether this incident played any role, I don’t know. — JULIAN DEAN

7 Comments on "The Princeton J. Press Wartime Blackout Riot"

  1. Richard E. Press | January 17, 2020 at 6:16 pm | Reply

    They couldn’t blame it on me. I was 4 years old.

  2. Does anyone know what store currently occupies the space where J.Press once stood? Perhaps the street address is still the same?

  3. JDD:
    J. Press in Princeton was located at 5 Palmer Square W. at Nassau Street

  4. For J. Press aficionados who may wonder, the source of the address in Princeton was an ad in the Yale University Banner (1940 yearbook):

    https://images.app.goo.gl/13iRzSpAn34uQMMG8

  5. Am sure I am one of the few on these pages who remember the WW2 blackouts. They were for the main purpose of, at night, eliminating the ship silhouette of our shipping on the North Atlantic from German submarines. The ships ran blacked out but still suffered severe sinkings, damages and loss of life.

    I can vividly recall being in a room at the then elegant New Yorker hotel on West 34th Street with my mother during a blackout. It was in 1944 I believe. Maybe 1943. Exciting for a young lad from St. Louis.

  6. Thanks, all. It may interest some of you to know that the location of the former J.Press store in Princeton is considered one of the most haunted buildings in Princeton. Apparently, the space is haunted by a cigar smoking ghost whose scent reveals his presence. I’m not sure if there is any historical fact behind the haunting, maybe someone else can weigh in.

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