When I look out my window in Austin I can still see a little piece of Detroit. A little piece that rises 165ft off the ground and traveled here during Victorian times.
The Zilker moontower is within sight of my house, and is one of 17 or so remaining from 31 originally installed in Austin in the 1890s. After reading Skip Hollandsworth’s excellent Midnight Assassin about the country’s first serial killer (often called the Servant Girl Killer here in Austin) I was led to believe that the moontowers were erected in the (literal) shadier part of town in East and South Austin where traditional gas lamps didn’t provide a sense of security at night. The logic there was that new power from the hydroelectric dam would churn out electric light in areas that might be susceptible to more murders or nefarious deeds.
Apparently that theory (some ten years after the actual murders, which came and went, never to be solved) is now disputed, which is too bad because it had a nice logic to it.
But the original 31 towers were brought south just as Detroit (and apparently most everyone else in the world) was transitioning away from them. It wasn’t on par with trading Toledo for the U.P. with Ohio, but it wasn’t Michigan’s worst deal of all time either.
And now, just like San Francisco’s cable cars, Austin is the last and only place in the world to still use and celebrate this antiquated technology. Granted, the towers aren’t as romantic as the Rice-A-Roni red boxes sliding up and down the slopes of California Street, but they have their own charm. And for a northern boy like me, they provide just a hint of home even late at night.
For more information about the moontowers, jump here.
I can still recall the first time I heard this song. It was July and I was driving to watch my daughter’s first swim lesson. The song came on a local solar-powered radio station and I was arrested. I sat through the entire thing, tried to remember a clip of lyric, and came home that night to look it up. When the album was released I was happy to read about its acclaim from afar, and to revisit the song I first heard on that sweltering day.