The University of Texas Tower is an iconic symbol, not only on campus but also around Austin. From miles away, you can see when the Tower is lit after the Longhorns win a football game, or for annual commencement events. It is also a somber memory of a horrible mass shooting that took place from its observation deck over 50 years ago.
What everyone knows
Most people know the tower is notorious for a mass shooting that took place in the 60s.
What they don't tell you
Tower Girl, a female peregrine falcon, first attempted nesting on top of the tower in 2018. A webcam was strategically placed by the University of Texas Biodiversity Center in order to monitor her.
Do it like a local
Did you know you can take a 45 minute, self-guided, non-historical tour of the U.T. Tower? It provides information about the Tower's architecture and is a wonderful opportunity for photos due to its 360 degree panoramic view of Austin and the UT campus. The tour costs $6 and you will be escorted by student guides.
For the History Buffs
The 307 foot tower is the most distinguishing landmark at the University of Texas in Austin.
It was formerly a closed-stack library where patrons used an immense card catalog, then requested their books at the front desk, then a librarian would search for books on any of its 27 floors before sending the books downstairs via a “dumbwaiter” elevator. However, as student enrollment grew so did the demand for library books and patrons could sometimes wait more than thirty minutes.
The observation deck atop the U.T. Tower is sadly known for being the dreaded location where Charles Whitman - a former Marine - indiscriminately opened fire on people below. On August 1, 1966, Whitman shot and killed 14 people, including an unborn child, and injured 31 others. (One final victim died in 2001 from the lingering effects of his wounds). He also stabbed his wife and mother to death the night before. The incident ended, 96 agonizing minutes later, when a policeman and a civilian reached Whitman and shot him dead. Police found a small arsenal of weapons including rifles, pistols, a shotgun, and machete.
The attack was the deadliest mass shooting by a lone gunman in U.S. history, at the time.
Following the shootings, the tower observation deck was closed, and reopened two years later in 1968. It was closed again in 1975 following four suicides. After security features were installed, it was again reopened in 1999, but only for by-appointment guided tours. All visitors are screened by metal detectors.
The tower was designed by Paul Philippe Cret, a French-born citizen who was an architect and industrial designer in Philadelphia. Completed in 1937, and made of Indiana limestone, it stands at the center of the forty-acre campus, and has a carillon of 56 bells, which is played daily, making it the largest in the Lone Star State.
Today, the Tower is no longer used to house the university’s central library. It now mainly contains administrative offices, however students can still study in the grand reading rooms that house a three-floor Life Sciences Library.
The U.T. Tower is quite a spectacle at night when it is lit in various color schemes for special occasions such as athletic victories. There are many different options for lighting, including a darkened tower to signify solemn occasions. Whenever the campus wins a National Championship in athletics, a burnt-orange hue covers the tower while the office windows are lit to form the numeral "1". In addition, the Tower windows are lit up to form the year (e.g. a 12 for the Class of 2012) of the class being honored, during commencement ceremonies as well as welcoming new students to campus, during the annual Gone To Texas event. more deets here
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