Monday, July 31, 2006

It Was 40 Years Ago Today . . .

. . . on August 1, 1966, that Charles Whitman, Eagle Scout, All-American Boy, and former Marine ascended the Tower at The University of Texas at Austin and started killing people. Actually, he'd started a bit earlier, killing his mother and his wife at their homes. He killed several people inside the tower, and he killed and wouunded a lot more outside. Judy and I lived in Denton at the time. We listened to the whole thing unfold on the radio as we packed our cars for the move we were going to make the next day, to Austin. I don't remember that we ever questioned the wisdom of going to a place where someone could do what Charles Whitman had done. Our decision had been made, we'd rented an apartment, and I was eager to start work on my Ph.D.

I've talked to people who were there that day and heard their stories. The current issue of Texas Monthly is full of personal accounts by survivors and people who were close by. It's a powerful article, but it's not available on-line.

When I was an undergrad, I loved to go up on the Tower observation deck and look out over the city. The observation deck was more than twenty-seven stories off the ground, and the tallest building in my hometown was the high school: two stories. No wonder I was impressed. After the shootings, the Tower was closed for a while, but as soon as it re-opened, I went up. There were still bullet holes in the walls, though I believe most of them have been plastered over now.

To a some of you reading this, 1966 will seem as distant as the dinosaurs, but to the people who were there that day, and to at least one person who was moving to Austin the next day, it's as immediate as the news in this morning's paper. Like the Kennedy assassination of a few years earlier, it's one of those terrible moments in history that we'll never forget.


  1. Scott Cupp8:04 AM

    Oddly enough I was in Denton that day visiting a friend who had moved there. We watched the TV in disbelief. My aunt, who was working on her PhD at the time, was supposed to be in the tower that day but had decided not to go in and was working from her apartment on Enfield Drive. Terrible day. However, immortalized by our soon-to-be governor on SOLD AMERICAN as "The Ballad of Charles Whitman"

  2. The Kinkster is, of course, quoted in the Texas Monthly article.

  3. That will always be one of those "I remember where I was when" moments. I was at my sister's house, spending most of the summer with her while my brother-in-law was in the Army. I've driven by the UT Tower many times but have never been in it.

  4. My parents were both UT grads and were living in Austin when this happened. When we made our annual trip from Shreveport down to my grandmother's house we would pass by, and without fail my mother would point out the tower.