110 Inner Campus Drive
As the site of the 1966 massacre, there’s no doubt that evil energies lurk the University of Texas Tower. Does the poltergeist of Charles Joseph Whitman still prowl the observation deck?
Security guards stationed at the deck often allege ghostly on-goings. Lights flicker and fade on their own. Some even have had run-ins with supernatural forces they believe to be Whitman himself.
While the paranormal disturbances may be benign, Whitman’s darker history haunts the University of Texas Tower.
In 1937, this imposing 307-foot tower became an icon of inspiration.
Designed by French-born architect Paul Cret, the UT Tower was initially built to house the central library of the university. Two large rooms were established within the building for reading the “Hall of Texas” and the “Hall of Noble Words.”
Above the reading rooms, lovers of literature could find stacks upon stacks of books. Students still congregate in the impressive reading rooms today despite the Tower being used as office space.
In 1966, The Tower became the site of one of the bloodiest massacres in Texas since the Battle of the Alamo. This was the first mass shooting to tarnish Norman Rockwell’s America.
The horrors of the massacre were caught on camera and broadcasted across the country. Scenes of gunshots, people running in panic, and victims lying motionless on the ground were all overshadowed by The Tower.
Some say this was the moment in time when many Americans lost their mid-century innocence.
The shock and horror of watching the bodies of college kids hauled off by the wrists and ankles traumatized the University of Texas. Even their rescue attempts were futile as a madman continued to cause mayhem.
Charles Joseph Whitman was only 25-years old whenever he scoped out his victims from the clock of The Tower. Overall, he shot at random for over 90 minutes.
Whitman was a sharpshooter in the Marines who owned three rifles, two pistols, and one sawed-off shotgun. He would use all of his arsenal that fateful day.
In the day leading up to the massacre, Whitman made several complaints of searing migraines and extreme depression. What changed that morning on August First may never come to light.
Whitman had murdered his wife and mother earlier that day. Why would a young Marine snap like this?
Whatever the cause, the meanstreak in Whitman had been unleashed. Before noon, Whitman climbed atop The Tower, choosing his targets at random with unmerciful precision.
Whitman’s terror stretched over five blocks of the normally peaceful college neighborhood. The insanity lasted for a gut-wrenching ninety-six minutes. To save themselves, people hid behind trees, took cover wherever they could find shelter, or even played dead.
The events that unfolded on this horrific day were a rude awakening for the American people. The country had already seen their president assassinated three years before. Now, they saw a mass shooting on their college campus that claimed sixteen lives. Thirty-more people were injured.
Whitman was eventually killed by Austin police officers Houston McCoy and Ramiro Martinez, putting an end to the killing spree at the University of Texas Tower.
In the year of 1999, the University of Texas dedicated The Tower’s garden to the tragic victims of Whitman. And, in July of 2016, an official memorial was established.
The memorial reads:
Interfectum August 1, 1966
Thomas Aquinas Ashton
Dr. Robert H. Boyer
Thomas Frederick Eckman
Mark Jerome Gabour
Karen Joan Griffith
David H. Gunby
Thomas Ray Karr
Marguerite Gabour Lamport
Roy Dell Schmidt
Paul Bolton Sonntag
Officer Billy Paul Speed
Edna Elizabeth Rose Townsley
Kathleen Leissner Whitman
Margaret Hodges Whitman
Baby Boy Wilson
The massacre would not be that last day of tragedy for The Tower. While the observation deck of The Tower was closed for two years after the Whitman’s massacre, it was reopened in 1968.
Its tenure was short-lived after a series of suicides took place by 1975. In total, nine people jumped to their tragic deaths from The Tower.
Today, the Tower’s observation deck is accessible but guarded by security. Visitors to the University of Texas Tower will find an imposing yet impressive structure, eternally marked by history and tragedy.