In what was perhaps the most successful movie event in Austin’s history, the Paramount Theater hosted the world premiere of Batman, The Movie on Saturday, July 30, 1966. An estimated 30,000 people—kids and adults—filled Congress Avenue, renamed Batman Boulevard for the occasion, to get a glimpse of the stars from the popular television series arriving by motorcade 30
minutes before the afternoon show. Adam West (Batman), Lee Meriwether (Catwoman), Burgess Meredith (the Penguin) and Caesar Romero (the Joker) donned their full costumes and appeared live on stage in front of the theater (in the sweltering Texas summer heat, no less). The premiere was intended as a pre-festival benefit for the city’s annual Aqua Festival (started in 1962), with proceeds going to help keep the festival afloat for years to come. The Batboat featured in the movie had been designed by local boat company Glastron, and was on display inside the theater during the premiere.
The zeitgeist of this sleepy, laid back little college town (with a population of just over 218,000 people) went from one of celebration and elation to utter shock and despair just 48 hours later, when, on Monday, August 1, 1966, a lone sniper climbed to the top of the city’s iconic UT Tower, a symbol of peace and pride, and shot 14 innocent people on UT campus. Austin (or probably any other U.S. city, for that matter) could not have been more unprepared for the tragedy. Over 33 others were wounded in the attack. The UT Tower tragedy was unprecedented and, at the time, was considered the worst mass murder of civilians in a public space in U.S. history.
Meanwhile, life went on and so did the Aqua Festival. Just four days after the tragedy, on August 5, the annual Aqua Fest (as it was called) offered 10 fun-filled days packed with concerts, parades, races and water recreation events for all ages on Town Lake (now Lady Bird Lake) under a “Discover Texas” theme, It ended on August 14 with the “Rio Noche Night Lighted Water Parade.” For better or for worse, both the premiere and the tragedy have become an indelible part of Austin’s collective story and live on in the hearts and minds of all those touched by them.