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Austin’s

Moonlight Towers


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When you come upon one, it is like a street lamp, but much

Golden Dream Mark Oppenheimer

taller, and statelier, with a structured, metallic grace, like a miniature Eiffel Tower. If the moon towers are not, as it turns out, beacons for late-night keggers, they are something better. They are dignified yet homey: authoritative watchmen who, in their settings, are quite modest, with no airs. They are proud to light streets where families eat, sleep and play. They refuse to be monuments; they are like antique chairs that people actually sit on.

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Golden Dream

The remaining towers have survived rowdy cowboys’ attempts to

Marcella Sykora

shoot them down, storms, World War II blackouts, and progress, which has led to the replacement of similar towers in other cities with more modern lighting systems.

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The moon towers were always interesting to me while

Golden Dream Andy Mattern

I lived in Austin because they seemed both visible and invisible and I had not seen structures like them before. After researching their history a bit, I became intrigued that they were disappearing and so I decided to document all the remaining towers. I wanted to show them in a way that demonstrated their scale and uniformity, but also their thin form and the diverse surrounding locations.

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I know there was talk in the 1960s of taking all the towers down

Golden Dream Dr. Bruce J. Hunt

as outdated relics, but happily that didnâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;t happen. Whether there was some deliberate symbolism involved, I donâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;t know, but [it is suggested] that many Austinites liked the moonlight glow from the towers and would have been sorry to lose them. At some point they were designated as historic landmarks, and in the 1990s the city electrical utility undertook an extensive refurbishment of the towers to make sure that the ones that were still standing would survive for a lot longer. << Previous

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Johnson [Wood] and Jimmy [Fowler] reached the top. They walked around under the soft lights which have given Austin a slogan, Moonlight every night. The boys looked

Great Falls Anita Brewer

out across the city, picking out familiar spots and marveling at how much they could see at night from such a height.

Then Jimmy said, “I’m dizzy. I’m getting down.”

“Don’t look down, you’ll fall,” screamed Johnson.

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Great Falls Anita Brewer

There were so many steps up the tower, I was afraid Iâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;d let loose and fall. But when you go up on top of them and look over the city, itâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s a beautiful sight.

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Yes, I fell from the top of the tower at the corner of Woodridge Park […] I was 12 years old, at this time I was a bit wild […] one year later another fellow fell from this same tower. His nick-

Great Falls Jim Fowler

name was Bunky Moore, his real name was Fowler Moore. My folks were in a gig police dance at the Driskell Hotel Ballroom. I made sure that Mother saw me before the evening paper came out. I knew they would Extra it and be yelling Fowler Boy Falls From Tower Light.

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Great Falls Kivet Bednar

A lot of the kids would just get drunk in the neighborhood and end up climbing it. I climbed it three or four times, and twice naked. I think I tied a McCallum T-shirt there. It was total ridiculousness.

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By the time we pulled up alongside the moon tower, I was afraid to look over the side. The wind was shivering our little basket, the temperature was around freezing, and

Great Falls Mark Oppenheimer

even though I was clipped in, and knew I was safe, I could summon none of the pluck that Mitch, Pickford, Slater and Pink Floyd display in the movie, as they casually work their way up the inside of their moon tower. I crouched and huddled near the slatted floor of the metal basket.

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There’s a stretch of Guadalupe Street across from the univer-

Great Falls Wiley Wiggins

sity where all the punk rock kids panhandled. There were coffee shops, record stores, quasi-bondage leather-goods stores. You’d get a lot of kids hanging out nearby on acid, talking about a friend of a friend who decided to talk to God and fell to his death. I don’t think any of those stories is substantiated.

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Cedar Choppers

Emmett Shelton recorded a series of tapes in 1975 and

Emmett Shelton

later transcribed them into the Cedar Choppers. Along with his father and brothers, Shelton represented this group of menâ&#x20AC;&#x201D;he goes so far as to describe them as hillbillies with little educationâ&#x20AC;&#x201D;as their lawyers since the early twentieth century.

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Cedar Choppers Emmett Shelton

In his account of a particular incident involving the constable in the search for one of his clients, he recalls the moonlight towers as resources, â&#x20AC;&#x153;the deputy constable who lived down in that area had gotten out with his [gun] and was trying to catch John. Evidently it was enough light to where he could see an object on the streets. It might have been when we had those old tower lights, at that time, they might have throwed a little light over there.â&#x20AC;? << Previous

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Servant Girl Annihilator

On the night of Christmas Eve in 1885, Eula Phillips and

Katherine Ramsland

Sue Hancock were found brutally murderedâ&#x20AC;&#x201D;besides a shoe print, no evidence was left behind.

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Servant Girl Annihilator

The baying of bloodhounds frantically seeking the killerâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s

Austin American-Statesman

scent broke into the usual chorus of Yuletide merriment, chilling holiday spirits.

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The name was coined by O. Henry in a letter to a friend, and it stuck, though it didn’t get used much at the time.

Servant Girl Annihilator Paul & Alana Cloutier

Some say he’s actually Jack the Ripper, with the theory being that he was a traveling English cotton merchant, or a Texas cowboy traveling around the world with Buffalo Bill’s Wild West Show. Or it was a voodoo thing. Or that he was a Southeast Asian cook who skipped town, but honestly though, nobody knows.

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What they do know is that from 1884 to 1885 somebody was on a killing spree in Austin. The city was pretty freaked out, and rightly so, Jack the Ripper never killed three people in

Servant Girl Annihilator Paul & Alana Cloutier

one night, nor did he go after sleeping families.(Or servant girls for that matter.) In all eight people were killed, and another eight seriously injured. Just to underscore the lawlessness of the West in the 1880s, the police rounded up 400 possible suspects over the course of the year. This was back when Austin had a population of 17,000.

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A Map of Existing Towers *See a real map

A Map of Removed Towers Gallery


Austinâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s Christmas Tree Austin Explorer

Since 1965 the Moonlight Tower in Zilker Park has served as Austinâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s Christmas Tree. The normal guy wires are supplemented by additional strands that contain over 3,300 lights that form a conical tree for the entire city. A favorite past-time of young and old alike is to spin under the tree while looing up at the lights, then trying to stand upright and fight off the resulting dizzying sensation.

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Moonlight Tower Romance Hervey Lazenby

I courted [Mattie Downman Smyth] for three years under that tower and finally in 1942, I proposed to her under that very tower.

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Moonlight Tower Romance Ann Gallaway

Youngsters born under them have grown up and become fathers and the third generation of Austin citizens is now joining these elders in accepting these lights, along with the sun and the moon and the stars, as realities.

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Austin's Moonlight Towers  
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