Moonlight Towers

Written by
Sean Cope

Moonlight Towers

As told by
Cope
From the iconic line by Mathew McConaughey in the movie Days and Confused "Party at the moontower" Alright Alright Alright. To there rich history, Austinites have treasured these illuminating structures for over 100 years.
Price:
FREE
Best time of day:
Anytime

What everyone knows

Growing up in Austin you hear stories about the towers. Your uncle always knew someone who climbed to the top. Or the freshmen who slipped and hit every rung on the way down. The towers are filled with folklore and urban legend. Let's take a glimpse into the history and facts surrounding one of Austin's most iconic architectural features.

What they don't tell you

Austin is the last city in the world to still maintain and operate Moonlight Towers. The towers were erected just ten years after the "Midnight Assassin" or "Servant Girl Annihilator" murders took place. The nations first recorded serial killer. The killer was never seen or apprehended due to the darkness of city life at night during that era. Legend has it that the " Midnight Assassin" Jumped aboard a ship sailing for England and became.... None other then "Jack The Ripper"

Do it like a local

If you find yourself in Austin during the holiday season, head over to Zilker park to see one of our prized Moontowers transformed into a giant christmas tree. Grab you a funnel cake or some kettle corn and spin around under the tree. This dizzying Austin tradition will bring the family together in what is sure to be an unforgettable moment.

For the History Buffs

In the early 1880s moonlight towers popped up in numerous cities around the united states. Even in the midst of electrification, witch back then you would only find lights in fancy homes or government buildings. The cities were light by oil lamps. Moonlight Towers were a way to eliminate the darkness of night in hopes of making the streets and neighborhoods a safer place to be. In 1894 Austin bought 31 second-hand towers from Detroit and erected them across town. The lights were extremely bright even by today's standards. The common street light at the time gave off about 11 candles worth of light. The Moonlight Towers gave off several thousand candles worth of light. Because of the extreme brightness, they had to put the light up very high. The Moon Towers here in Austin stand at a staggering 165 ft tall and you are supposed to be able to see your wristwatch from 15,000 feet in any direction. mimicking a full moon and giving the towers their name. Originally there were 6 carbon arc lights at the top of each tower. The carbon arc light relied on two carbon rods. Electricity would arc between the rods, producing an extremely bright light but the rods would burn out very quickly. Every day a city working would place all of there equipment and new rods in the basket that rides up through the middle of the structure. Climb to the top and use the pulley system to hoist there gear up and began replacing the rods. When lit, the arcs would rain down carbon ash. In 1895 when they turned them on for the first time the townspeople would come out at night with umbrellas to guard themselves from the falling ash and from the curious, new, intense light the towers provided. People would say things like "My isn't it beautiful to see your hands in such detail at night." and " The grass has never looked so brilliant then under the light of a Moonlight Tower." It wasn't until the 1920s that Austin switched over the more widely used incandescent bulbs. In WW2 the Moontowers were placed on a central switch controlled at the power plant. If we were to have an Air Raid, It would only take the flick of a switch to have the whole town go dark. While Austin was in the midst of updating our towers as new lighting technologies became available. Most cities around the country simply deconstructed their towers to replace them with new, more modern street lights. Over the coming decades, Austin would update its street lighting system, the city left the towers standing to skirt the coast of dismantling them. Over the years Austinites grew fond of the towers and their historic nature. In fact, in 1976 the Moonlight Towers were added to the National Registry For Historic Places. In the mid-1990s the city invested over one million dollars to restore the 15 remaining towers bolt by bolt.
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