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Thursday, July 13, 2017

A Viewer Writes: My thoughts on the SU tower

Joe,

The recent media coverage of the arrival of the bells for the new tower at SU brought back memories of another university, and another tower. They are not very pleasant memories. I voiced disapproval of the new tower when it was built. I just don’t think such structures are appropriate for a college campus. People are offended by such trivial things these days. I guess no one is offended, or concerned by the placement of this tower in the middle of SU.


On August 1, 1966, Charles Whitman climbed to the top of the University of Texas Tower with three rifles, two pistols, and a sawed-off shotgun. The 25-year-old architectural engineering major and ex-Marine—who had previously complained of searing headaches and depression—had already murdered his mother, Margaret, and his wife, Kathy, earlier that morning. He fired his first shots just before noon, aiming with chilling precision at pedestrians below. “The crime scene spanned the length of five city blocks . . . and covered the nerve center of what was then a relatively small, quiet college town,” noted executive editor Pamela Colloff in her 2006 oral history of the shootings. “Hundreds of students, professors, tourists, and store clerks witnessed the 96-minute killing spree as they crouched behind trees, hid under desks, took cover in stairwells, or, if they had been hit, played dead.”

At the time, there was no precedent for such a tragedy. Whitman “introduced the nation to the idea of mass murder in a public space,” wrote Colloff. By the time he was gunned down by an Austin police officer early that afternoon, he had shot 43 people, thirteen of whom died.

The shootings garnered international attention. “The cover of Life the next week made a big impression on all of us,” UT alumnus Shelton Williams told Texas Monthly in 2006. “The photo, which was taken from the victim’s point of view, was of the Tower, as seen through a window with two gaping bullet holes in it. From that vantage point it looked menacing, even evil—not the triumphant symbol of football victories we were used to.”

At year’s end, the Associated Press and United Press International ranked the shootings as the second most important story of 1966, behind only the war in Vietnam. The massacre would spur the creation of SWAT teams across the country. Because such tactical teams did not exist at the time of Whitman’s crime, many students had risked their own lives to fire back at the unseen sniper, or to help wounded strangers to safety.

The incident was arguably the most painful in UT’s history and the university tried for years, unsuccessfully, to erase its memory. That changed in 1999—33 years after the murders—when president Larry Faulkner agreed to allow a place of reflection to be created behind the Tower, dedicated to Whitman’s victims, and a memorial service to be held.

11 comments:

Anonymous said...

First thing I thought of when I saw the news clip. Second though was - who footed the bill for this.

Anonymous said...

If we destroyed every symbol or likeness of everything that remotely resembles the site of a horrible occurrence in our history......we would be giving in to the evil that lurks within. For every bad thing that's happen in our history there have been countless changes to prevent it from happening again. Remember when it was actually a fun thing to do when heading off on vacation and going to the airport? Now that's not so pleasant. Rest assured the proper precautious will be put in place to secure the new "bell tower" and to make it a positive not a horror show.

Anonymous said...

The Texas tower still stands. No one has fired a shot from it since the 1966 tragedy. Dozens of towers at other universities existed at the time and no active snipers ever occupied them. Over the ensuing 50 years, towers have been built on college campuses across the nation and nary a shot has been fired from any one of them.

Anonymous said...

Private donations.

Anonymous said...

SU is growing they are ready for the next level.

Anonymous said...

My only complaint at this juncture is that the SU tower is of an ugly design, neither a complement to surrounding design nor one that exemplifies any notion of place, history or inspiration. Its industrial look, if anything, pokes a finger in the eye of Salisbury's history of being once a place with a substantial industrial presence, an unpleasant reminder of what is lost forever.

I Threw Up My Lemonade When I Saw This On Your Blog! said...

1059 what level is that? Complete world domination?

Anonymous said...

Talk about UGLY designs, what are your thoughts about the "thing" on the Plaza??

Anonymous said...

Although this would never happen, but the PR traction it would get - how about a SU contribution ($$$$$$$) to (fill in the blank).

One might ask why? I think why not! Something POSITIVE for a change!

ONE DAY TO TGIF!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Anonymous said...

I can't go to Denny's anymore now I can't walk around SU anymore either.

Anonymous said...

Lee Harvey Oswald supposedly shot from a book depository.... yet we will have book warehouses and libraries. Columbine happened, and we still have schools. Aurora, Colorado... and we still have movie theaters. We still have nightclubs, shopping malls, concert arenas, etc. Life must continue in the face of acts of terror.