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The Last of The Moonlight Towers

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posted on Apr, 24 2018 @ 02:20 PM
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Hello all! I wanted to share some neat bit of history I stumbled upon today. I didn’t know anything about them and I’m betting many of you didn’t either.

One of my favorite movies is “Dazed and Confused”. If you haven’t seen it, it’s like American Graffiti only set in the late 70’s. If you haven’t seen “American Graffiti” (another favorite of mine), well, you now have two movies to watch this weekend. Anyways, I was looking at a website showing filming locations around Austin, TX for “Dazed and Confused”. There is a key scene in the movie revolving around a keg party at the “moon tower”. It is explained in the movie that the structure was put there while a dam was being built so they could work through the night. I found that the moon tower in the movie was a replica used for filming but that moon towers are a real thing, specifically in Austin.

Moon Towers
In the early years of electricity, city leaders tried to find better, cheaper and quicker ways to illuminate the streets and neighborhoods. In their haste to erase the line between day and night, they ended up looking to nature as a guide. They looked up, seeking a model in the largest and most reliable source of nocturnal light they knew: the moon.

So, for a brief time, the future of municipal lighting was glowing arc lamps suspended high above the cities on towers resembling oil derricks putting out 2k-6k candlepower. These man made moons made a promise to the people below that they would never be in the dark again.


But the towers, it turned out, were neither entirely brilliant nor entirely successful. The problem with a singular light source is the singularity: The light comes, inevitably, at an angle. Manmade moons could be easily blocked by anything that got in its way, be it a tree or a building or a human body. People complained about the disorienting shadows cast by the arc lights. Aware of this problem, moon tower efforts were focused on Midwestern cities that had the twin virtues of being both geographically flat and designed on a grid, thus mitigating the problem of the angles.
Aurora, Illinois was among the first to build these moon towers, soon followed by Detroit, Michigan. Not all people were excited about these new structures. Animals, for one thing, were unaccustomed to the newly extended daytime. Chickens and geese, unable to sleep in this new state of omnipresent light, began to die of exhaustion. Besides the trick of light and shadow, many deemed the structures an eyesore. Detroit alone had about seventy 150’ light towers constructed.

The moon towers were replaced, eventually, by a more modular solution. Some of the towers were dismantled. Some were felled by high winds. Some were brought down by "a rash of runaway mules that, in their 'fury,' accidentally knocked down towers." Detroit's remaining towers, for their part, moved south: They relocated to Austin, Texas, where city leaders, having newly constructed a dam on the Colorado River, were eager to make use of their harnessed electricity -- both for convenience's sake and for the prevention of crime. In 1894, the City of Austin purchased 31 of Detroit's used lighting towers. Seventeen of those structures survive today.

Austin, Texas
Austin, Texas, is the only city in the world known to still have moonlight towers. They are 165 feet tall with foundations 15 feet wide. A single tower cast light from six carbon arc lamps, illuminating a 1,500 feet radius circle brightly enough to read a watch.




In 1993, the city of Austin dismantled the towers and restored every bolt, turnbuckle and guy-wire as part of a $1.3 million project, the completion of which was celebrated in 1995 with a citywide festival. They are now, in the words of one historian, "much-loved curiosities". And they are, it seems, the last of their kind in America. As a plaque on one of Austin's remaining moon towers puts it:
“This is one of 17 that remain out of 31 towers erected 1894-95 and in continuous use since. Their carbon arc lights then illuminated the entire city. Now mercury vapor lamps provide beacons for many miles on roads and airway, from dusk to dawn. Austin is said to be unique in this dramatic method of lighting.”

I’m sure there are some ATSers from the Austin area. If so I hope to hear from you on this subject. I think it is a neat bit of history. I’m glad a few survive from that bygone era. When I visit Austin someday, they will be on my to do list.

Hope you all enjoyed.

edit on 24-4-2018 by jtrenthacker because: Added photo




posted on Apr, 24 2018 @ 03:05 PM
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a reply to: jtrenthacker

Well written, cool thread!

I grew up in a really dark neighborhood and love a dark night sky. Pretty sure I would have hated living under the moon tower shadow.




posted on Apr, 24 2018 @ 03:07 PM
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a reply to: zosimov

Totally agree with you. Though I think one or two in the center of town would be kind of cool. I wouldn't want my house/apartment to be within it's reach though.



posted on Apr, 24 2018 @ 03:17 PM
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a reply to: jtrenthacker

That was a fascinating read, I learned something new today.
Thanks for posting this



posted on Apr, 24 2018 @ 08:47 PM
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I lived in Austin for a while.
I have seen them, but never gave it a second thought.
Cool, man.



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