Reflections of pain and hope at UT

This story originally was published on Jan. 7, 2003.

University of Texas officials are creating a million-dollar memorial to the victims of sniper Charles Whitman's shooting spree almost 40 years ago.

The tree-covered grassy area north of the Main Building was dedicated as the Tower Garden three years ago. UT President Larry Faulkner said that dedication was the first step in remembering those who died and those whose lives were affected by the shootings on Aug. 1, 1966.

Whitman killed his wife and mother off-campus and then went to the UT Tower observation deck, from which he killed 14 and injured 31, one of whom died of his injuries in 2001.

"We're looking for this to be something that will connect the whole UT community from that time and down through the years to an element of history that is real and tragic," Faulkner said. "A lot of people were affected by the tragedy, including generations of students and members of our community who weren't even around at the time."

The proposed design concentrates on the three ponds that are habitat to turtles and other small wildlife. The ponds, which were leaking and needed cleaning and other maintenance, were fixed last year.

The memorial proposal, which a UT System regents' committee recommended for approval on Monday, will add bridges, sidewalks, flowering plants and trees. Sculpted stones engraved with the words "violence," "chaos" and "hope, " among others, will be placed along the rim of the middle pond. A low wall will surround the garden to ensure that visitors understand that this is a special place, artist Jill Bedgood said.

"Part of what I wanted to do was make the piece not just about the incident that occurred at the University of Texas," she said. "I wanted it to be more universal. We have been -- as country, as a society, as a world -- dealing with issues of violence continually. Every viewer has experienced some kind of loss."

Bedgood works with mixed media and has created other public art, including projects at the Austin Convention Center and Austin-Bergstrom International Airport. She and landscape architect Eleanor McKinney, both of Austin, spent time at the site watching people as they visited.

"The charge was to have something that was very subtle yet worthy of a memorial," McKinney said.

Neal Armstrong, chairman of the Tower Garden design committee, told the regents that the memorial should invoke emotions attached to a loss and the journey from tragedy to healing.

Although Faulkner designated $200,000 to begin the project, the university must raise about $800,000 privately to complete it.

"I see it as a lot of people contributing a little bit," Faulkner said.

That day in 1966 is still fresh in Faulkner's memory.

"Neal Armstrong and I were both there," he said. "There are people like us who were pretty significantly connected. I wasn't shot at. But anyone who was a part of this community at that moment has a strong connection to the event."

Final action on the proposal is expected at next month's board meeting, with design and construction expected to take a year. A memorial dedication is planned for Aug. 1, 2004.

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