On August 1, 1966, the University of Texas suffered a horrific shooting that marked the memories of people across the nation. In the article “Everywhere You Go, It’s There,” Rosa Eberly reveals how the shooting was memorialized. She examines its memory through the university and radio, as well as other forms of popular culture. In order to properly reflect on the Tower shooting, Eberly offered an undergraduate rhetoric course at the University of Texas. The classroom acted as a public place where memories of the tragedy could be discussed and preserved. Similarly, playgrounds act as a public place to remember a more recent shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary. CBS News covers the memorial project, one that brings light to a tragedy consumed by loss.
The university’s effective role in repressing memories of the shooting made local talk radio the only public place that preserved its remembrance. This came to Eberly’s attention while listening to KLBJ-AM’s Paul Pryor Show. On its twenty-ninth anniversary, the broadcast allowed people to call in and share personal recollections of the shooting. Many wanted to forget about the incident entirely, a similar appeal that was suggested by the university on their website. In 1996, Eberly observed its newest addition, “Scenes From the Top,” that provided visual access to the Tower through pictures and videos. While the shooting occurred in 1966, the university’s record of the structure began in 1974. Eberly believes that since there had been no public place for memories of the tragedy, “individual memory has been reenacted every year on local talk radio” (68). She then turned to the course, “Rhetoric 330: The UT Tower Shooting and Public Memory.” Eberly designated the classroom as a “protopublic space” for students to openly discuss the event and its remembrance (71).
Throughout the course, Eberly’s students found that additional references made in popular culture had given a dangerous man unworthy recognition. Their analysis of films, television shows and songs highlighted the concept of “not the victims, but the shooter, Charles Whitman” (72). Shirts that pictured his face were sold on college campuses, while the “Charles Whitman Fan Club” could be accessed online. These disturbing tributes to Whitman left Eberly’s students to question if a public monument would have the same effect. This concern led them to create an online memorial honoring victims of the shooting instead. With the tools of rhetoric, Eberly and her students were able to influence the memory of a tragedy that was near being forgotten.
The purpose of a public place to memorialize events is demonstrated by the playgrounds for the shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary. Rather than emphasize the gunman, this unique memorial recognizes the victims. In a CBS News’ video, correspondent Dan Dohler speaks with Bill Lavin, founder of The Sandy Project: Where Angels Play. Lavin and other volunteers are in the process of building twenty-six playgrounds across areas that were most affected by Hurricane Sandy. The playgrounds are dedicated to the twenty children and six teachers of Newtown, Connecticut who were killed at Sandy Hook Elementary. Each playground is designed to reflect aspects of his or her personality. This particular segment covers the most recent one that was built in Sandy Hook, New Jersey, for six-year-old Daniel Barden.
The playground in Sandy Hook honors the memory of a child who was taken from the world far too early. Although unable to replace Daniel, his spirit lives on in the smiles, laughter, and hearts of the children who play there. His favorite colors and artwork are displayed throughout the playground, while a toy fire truck represents the dream he once had to become a firefighter. Although faced with an unfathomable loss, the playground acts as a place for the Barden family to preserve their memories of Daniel. While the university chose to forget the Tower shooting, the Barden family chose to remember. They set aside feelings of pain and resentment, creating a memorial that is connected to a tragedy most would rather forget. In turn, a community that understands loss and the importance of hope in difficult times cherishes the life of their son. Denis Hamil of The Daily News portrays the playgrounds as “living, breathing, laughing monuments to the fallen of Newton.” Although the memorials honor lives lost, his description accurately captures the project’s overall purpose. While the playgrounds grant happiness to the children affected by one tragedy, the spirit of a child in another is commemorated and preserved.