Friday, February 15, 2013

Austin's Moon Light Towers - And Jack The Ripper?

Have you ever driven by one of the 17 or so remaining Moon Light Towers around town? Did you ever wonder about them? When they were installed? What and why Austin's city government had in mind when these towers were originally erected?

Well, there is more than one report of when these towers were first installed, but the general time frame is the early 1880's. Austin was a much smaller place in those days. Less than 20,000 people. Not much bigger than the population of today's Steiner Ranch. Wikipedia reports that light towers like these were erected in a number of major US cities at that time1. As cities grew, the need for greater security and law enforcement was becoming obvious and lights seemed to some to be a good starting place. Austin was one of many growing cities and the early growth of these cities was as challenging as current day growth.

Some say that these lights were installed here in Austin to help capture or stop one of the first known and documented serial killers in the US--here in Austin in the 1890's. That killer became known in history as the "Servant Girl Annihilator." Getting some light out on the streets seemed like a good idea at the time and may be considered the first community "street lights" of the time.

Of course, there were other challenges in Austin during the early days. Austin was developing a growing rowdy "Boy's Town" area near downtown at that time as well. Men were acting like little boys in their view of the world and handling of disputes. Regardless of why the lights were installed, the stories have it that soon after these lights were put in place, the serial murders of 1890's era reportedly stopped. Now for the interesting side note: Three years after Austin's serial murders stopped, a similar set of murders began across the pond--in London. Those murders were later tied to the infamous "Jack the Ripper".  We may never know if the two killers were linked, but many have speculated that these villainous perpetrators may have been one in the same.   

During World War II, the towers were all tied together and powered by the power of what is today the Tom Miller Dam. A central switch was installed at the dam to shut them all off with one kill switch in the event of an air raid on Austin. 

While the complete truth behind the stories of the late 1800's may be forever lost or distorted with time, we still have a hand full of these glorious Moon Light Towers scattered across the down town area. A reminder of a time when Austin was a much smaller, albeit, not so gentle place to live. 

1 - Wikipedia Ref


  1. Side note about the towers: During World War II, a central switch to control all of the lights from one location was implemented, allowing citywide blackouts in case of air raids.

  2. As childern we lived at the corner of canterbury and lynn in East Austin and l witness a. Moon light being set up in 1960 l was 12 years old.We could play outside at night while our parents sat to escape the heat inside the house since there was no air con.Those were precious days.I often think about the neat moon light, priceless. O by the way 50+yrs the Moon light still comes on at night.

    t still comes on at night.

  3. I happen to witness the Moon light being installed by our house in 1962 ,we lived at the corner of Lynn and Canterbury in East Austin.In the summer my parents would sit for hours outside while we played it was so well lighted we didn't even need to turn on our porch light.I sometimes drive by the old neighborhood and yes theMoon light still coms on at night.Priceless.

  4. itself is amazing lighting intensity of these light towers bring many wonderful memories of youth



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