texas tower

‘Tower’ Pays Tribute To A 1966 Campus Shooting That Was 'Pushed Aside’

In August 1966, a student and former Marine ascended to the top of the tower that housed the University of Texas’ main library and began shooting at people below. He killed 14 people on the campus and wounded 31 more. Hours earlier, Whitman had killed his wife and mother in their homes. He was eventually shot to death by police. A 15th victim died in 2001, from injuries sustained in the attack.

Now the new documentary Tower recreates that 96-minute-long massacre in an original way, using archival film and new interviews with an animated portrayal of the events. Keith Maitland, who directed the film, interviewed hundreds of people who were on campus that day to learn more about the incident.

“One of the things they always want to make clear is how unprecedented this was … ” Maitland tells Fresh Air’s Dave Davies. “We live in a world today where you hear a loud sound that sounds like a gunshot in a public space and it doesn’t take long to kind of assume that there’s something happening that you don’t want to be a part of … to run and hide. But in 1966, on this hot Monday morning here in Austin, people were surprised, they were confused, and so it made the sniper’s job a lot easier to catch people unaware.”

Claire Wilson James, a pregnant, 18-year-old incoming freshman, was the first person the gunman shot from the tower. In a separate interview, she tells Davies she believes the shooter was aiming at the baby.

She survived the incident, but lost both her unborn baby and her boyfriend, Tom Eckman, who died instantly after being shot. In the years that followed, she avoiding speaking about the massacre. At the University of Texas, classes were canceled for just one day to allow for clean-up, and then business resumed as usual. There was no mention of the shooting at that year’s graduation, or in the school yearbook.

“It really was pushed aside. … People were encouraged to move forward and not linger in the terrible tragedy of that day,” Maitland says. “Looking back, I think that was a mistake, and I think that cost people, people who were there that day, people who were traumatized by the event, it cost them an opportunity to deal with that trauma.”

Ultraman in Texas

In February, I went to see the Ultraman Double Feature that was touring American theaters in a limited engagement.  It featured dubbed versions of the Ultraman X and Ultraman Ginga S movies. I wasn’t a huge fan of the dub but I still enjoyed the movies quite a bit, especially the Ultraman X film. 

As many of you might know, I live in Texas.  Right now I live in Austin but I spent a good many years in the Dallas/Forth Worth area and I still go back from time to time because that is where a lot of my family resides. As you might expect, given its Japanese nature, there isn’t a lot of Tokusatsu that uses Texas, or Dallas in particular as a setting. 

Well, low and behold during part of the Ultraman X movie, what city should appear on screen?

Hey, those buses have the Texas flag on them and some of those buildings look familiar… no, it couldn’t be.

Holy crap!  It is, there’s an Ultraman movie that has scenes set (and shot) in Dallas!

OMG!  I know exactly where that is!  That road is IH35, which is a major interstate Highway running from Minnesota to Mexico!  It’s a crappy and congested roadway that’s sometimes a Nightmare to drive on. Also, that ball in the center of the screen…

Yeah, that one, right there!  That’s Reunion Tower, one of Dallas’ most notable skyline landmarks.  There’s a hotel connected to it that I used to be the site of an anime convention I attended.  That’s so cool!

Oh crap, that’s not going to help traffic any.

Fun fact, when I was really bored and living in Dallas, I would sometimes fantasize about what it would be like to have a giant monster attack the city.  Apparently someone in Japan had the same idea!

So, who is going to save Dallas?

It’s Ultraman Ginga!

And Dallas is saved!  Yeah, this probably isn’t that cool to anyone else, especially if you live in a place often used in science fiction/monster movies but I so rarely see Dallas get a giant monster or a tokusatsu fight so yeah, this made me like the movie even more!

Charles A. Whitman, father of mass killer Charles Whitman, and son John look on as Whitman and his mother – one of his 15 victims – are buried. The priest who celebrated the funeral mass stated that the Roman Catholic Church gave Whitman a Christian burial because “God in His mercy does not hold him responsible” for his final actions.

  • Lance: wait wait, YOU'VE been to Paris?!
  • Keith: yea? I mean I don't really see what the big deal is? It's pretty lame actually
  • Hunk: that's so cool! Did you see the eiffel tower??
  • Keith: yea, the cowboy hat was a little excessive though
  • Pidge: um...?
  • Shiro: *long sigh* Paris FRANCE keith, not Paris Texas

“I do not really understand myself these days. I am supposed to be an average reasonable and intelligent young man. However, lately (I cannot recall when it started) I have been a victim of many unusual and irrational thoughts.”

-Charles Whitman, who shot dead 16 people and wounded a further 32 others in the largest mass shooting in America: The UT Tower Shooting. It was later revealed that the most likely cause for his irrational thoughts was a brain tumor, the size of a pecan, which Whitman had suspected for quite some time. In a note Whitman wrote before the shooting he requested that: “After my death I wish that an autopsy would be performed on me to see if there is any visible physical disorder.” 

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Tower (2016) is a documentary about the Texas Tower Sniper, and the events of August 1st, 1966 at the University of Texas at Austin. Using archival footage and rotoscopic animation, Tower tells the story of America’s first mass school shooting, which claimed the lives of 16, and wounded 31. Fifty years later, it’s quite jarring to see that nothing has changed, and school shootings have become almost commonplace.


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Ronald Reagan to Donald Trump: Comparing first 100 days of last six presidents
The first 100 days have been bumpy for other modern presidents, but none had as rocky a ride as Donald Trump has encountered during his opening days in office. Here's a look back.

Donald Trump (2017)

President Trump addresses a joint session of Congress on Feb. 28, 2017. (Photo: Pablo Martinez Monsivais, AP)

Approval rating: 43%*

Nominees formally submitted/confirmed by Senate: 24/22*

Major successes: Neil Gorsuch confirmed for Supreme Court; some Obama-era regulations repealed

Major setbacks: Proposal to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act withdrawn from House; immigration orders blocked by federal courts; national security adviser Michael Flynn forced to resign

Of note: FBI confirmed investigation into whether Trump associates colluded with Russian meddling in election

Barack Obama (2009)

President Barack Obama is sworn in on Jan. 20, 2009. (Photo: Tim Sloan, AFP/Getty Images)

Approval rating: 65%

Nominees formally submitted/confirmed by Senate: 190/69

Major successes: Stimulus bill passed; children’s health care expanded; equal-pay protections bolstered; federal ban on embryonic stem-cell research lifted

Major setbacks: Nominee for key role of Health and Human Services secretary, Tom Daschle, forced to withdraw

Of note: Stock market bottomed out in March, a sign that the end of the worst economic downturn since the Great Depression was in sight

George W. Bush (2001)

President Bush speaks to newly sworn-in White House staff members in an East Room ceremony on Jan. 22, 2001. (Photo: H. Darr Beiser, USA TODAY)

Approval rating: 62%

Nominees formally submitted/confirmed by Senate: 85/35

Major successes: House passed tax proposal, eventually signed in June, to slash income tax rates

Major setbacks: Failed to act on a blue-ribbon commission report urging changes in homeland security or on warning signs before the terror attacks on New York and Washington that would follow in September

Of note: U.S. spy plane flying over the South China Sea clipped by Chinese fighter jet and forced to land on Chinese soil

Bill Clinton (1993)

President Bill Clinton is sworn in on Jan. 20, 1993. (Photo: Ed Reinke, AP)

Approval rating: 55%

Nominees formally submitted/confirmed by Senate: 176/49

Major successes: Family and Medical Leave Act signed

Major setbacks: Furors over gays in the military, firing of White House travel office staffers

Of note: Hillary Rodham Clinton put in charge of signature health care overhaul, which eventually would fail.

George H.W. Bush (1989)

President George H.W. Bush is sworn into office on Jan. 20, 1989. (Photo: Bob Daugherty, AP)

Approval rating: 56%

Nominees formally submitted/confirmed by Senate: 95/50

Major successes: Submitted plan to bail out troubled savings and loans, eventually signed in August

Major setbacks: Nominee for Defense secretary, Texas Sen. John Tower, rejected by Senate

Of note:  Worst oil spill on U.S. territory in history when Exxon Valdez supertanker ran aground in Alaska

Ronald Reagan (1981)

President Ronald Reagan in the Oval Office on Jan. 20, 1981. (Photo: Barry Thumma, AP)

Approval rating: 68%

Nominees formally submitted/confirmed by Senate: 128/80

Major successes: Proposed major cuts in taxes and domestic spending and an increase in military spending; Iran released U.S. hostages as he was inaugurated

Major setbacks: Fragility in the economy, which would head into recession in July

Of note: Survived assassination attempt by John Hinckley Jr.

Sources: Gallup Poll; Partnership for Public Service; USA TODAY research by Susan Page

*As of April 21