Fifty years ago this year, Charles Whitman ascended the University of Texas Tower and proceeded to spend the next 96 minutes shooting at students and faculty, leaving more than three dozen people injured or dead. The history of that day has been well-documented over the years (perhaps nowhere more effectively than in the work of our own Pam Colloff), but one thing that it’s easy to lose sight of is that the shooting wasn’t just a tragedy in Texas. It resonated around the nation.
Stanley Kubrick, Peter Bogdanovich, Oliver Stone, John Singleton, and Richard Linklater all referenced Whitman in their work; Kurt Russell portrayed the shooter in an early made-for-TV film. His life (and death) were referenced in Mad Men and in songs by everybody from folkie Harry Chapin to the Insane Clown Posse. Because the specter of Whitman looms large over Texas, and Austin, one can be forgiven for forgetting that the entire world was watching what happened.
But they remember the shooting, and its victims, in other places too. And in New York on Wednesday, the iconic Paramount Building at 1501 Broadway honored the victims by stopping its three clocks at 11:48 a.m., the time at which Whitman began shooting.
It’s the first time the clock has been stopped for any reason since the end of World War II, and it will remain frozen until Thursday. The tribute coincides with the release of documentary filmmaker Keith Maitland’s Tower, which has garnered an Audience Award at SXSW and early Oscar buzz, further suggesting the enduring, wide-scale interest in the true story of what happened on the Forty Acres on August 1, 1966.
The Paramount’s gesture is a fitting tribute to a day of shock and horror—and a precursor to the days that have occurred since then in an age in which mass shootings are increasingly common. Ultimately, that’s part of the reason why and how the Tower shooting still resonates. At the time of the shooting and shortly after, Whitman’s name became an example of an aberration, a question of how someone can snap so fully. Now, at a time when someone indiscriminately opens fire at a college campus, on average, a few times a year, we look to Whitman for clues about what would follow. All of which is a lot to take in while looking at a stopped clock, but that’s a fine place to start.
(For those who want to consider all of this more fully, Texas Monthly and the Alamo Drafthouse are hosting an Austin screening of Tower with Pam Coloff and director Keith Maitland on October 27.)