The Myths of Austin

Below is a freelance article I was working on that I missed the deadline for (I’m going to make a great freelance writer).
It is about the myths of Austin, Texas and whether they are true or not.
I spent a lot of time reading up on the history of Austin only to realize that it really doesn’t have any.
Well it’s no New York or Chicago, jeez!Nonetheless, I was able to scrounge up some interesting (?) myths about this fair city.
(And if I’m wrong with any of these…please let me know so I don’t make a huge ass of myself. PLEASE!?)


1.) Does Austin have a celebrity homeless person?

Yes.A true testament to the open-mindedness of Austin, Texas, not only does the city have a celebrity homeless person, that same person also ran for mayor! Due to his friendly attitude, activism for the homeless, and unique fashion ensembles consisting of leopard print thongs and high heel shoes, Leslie Cochran has been a colorful, yet notable fixture in the Austin community for years. It’s near impossible for locals and tourists not to know who Leslie is. If you haven’t seen the magnets bearing his likeness for sale at various stores around the city, then maybe you have the Leslie iPhone app? Or maybe you’ve heard about his numerous mayoral runs? Leslie has yet to win, but that doesn’t stop him from still being the city’s most lovable homeless cross-dresser.


2.) Did Austin erect giant light towers over the city in the 1800’s due to a serial killer?


It’s commonly claimed that thirty-one, 165 feet “moonlight towers” were erected over the city due to the brutal murders of several young women in the late 1800’s. However, that doesn’t appear to be the case. In 1884 and 1885 a serial killer known as “The Servant Girl Annihilator” ran amok in Austin, brutally raping and killing seven victims (the link above states that the towers were erected because of the killer but IT’S WRONG…I think?). The moonlight towers, which each illuminated a 1500 feet radius, were constructed in 1894, already ten years after the first murder. The moonlight towers were simply built to help light the city and there is no hard proof that they were built in response to the grizzly killer. 17 moonlight towers still remain.

3.) Did festival-goers stand in sewage during the 2009 Austin City Limits Festival?


On Friday of the 2009 Austin City Limits Festival, festival-goers could not ask for a more perfect day at beautiful Zilker Park in downtown Austin. Fast forward to Sunday after uncharacteristic rain poured over the normally sweltering city, and you got yourself one giant mud fest. However, this wasn’t any old mud. Patrons started to notice the distinct smell of, for the lack of a better word, POOPIE!, emanating from the festival grounds. Though many didn’t know exactly what it was at the time, it was later discovered that the grounds had been treated with a special compost called “Dillo Dirt” that comprised of yard clippings and treated sewage. Either way, that didn’t stop festival-goers from rolling around in the “mud” and having a great time at the festival.


4.) Did a man poison the Treaty Oak because that is where he proposed to his girlfriend and she turned him down?


Many legends have circulated on why one man, Paul Cullen, decided to ritualistically poison a sacred and historical oak tree in the middle of Austin, Texas. Was it because he was in love with another man and was trying to fight his feelings? Was it because he was in love with his psychiatrist who didn’t return the love? Was it because he proposed to his girlfriend at that location and she turned him down? Nobody knows what went through Cullen’s head that day in 1989 when he poured heavy-duty plant killer on the last remaining Oak of the Council Oaks where in the 1800’s, local Native American tribes would hold sacred meetings. According to Texas Monthly Magazine, the mentally-unstable Cullen poisoned the tree “to entrap it’s spiritual energy to win the love of a woman or to ward off a rival.” Cullen was sentenced to nine years in prison and locals and nature lovers banded together to try and help the sickly tree (which included leaving cans of soup). Ross Perot even wrote a blank check to help fund efforts in saving the tree. In the late 1990’s, the tree began producing acorns again and though now somewhat crooked, she still stands strong to do this day.


5.) Are there hundreds of wild parakeets living in Austin?


It doesn’t take long for a one to spot the brightly colored Monk Parakeets roaming freely amongst the streets of Austin. These pretty birds have set up nests all over the city and it looks they are not going anywhere. But how did they get here? There is no conclusive evidence on exactly how the parakeets landed in Austin, but there are plenty of fun rumors spreading around. One myth refers to an accident at JFK airport in 1967 that supposedly first introduced Monk Parakeets to the United States. Another story points to local Janet Gilles who released 19 Monk Parakeets into the wild after she got sick of keeping them in the house. Either way, they have become a great addition to the uniqueness of the city.

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  • Reply christin August 10, 2010 at 2:13 pm

    These things I did not know. Thanks for learning me this early in the morning!


  • Reply KeLLy aNN August 10, 2010 at 2:17 pm

    I love History.

  • Reply Emily August 10, 2010 at 2:17 pm

    Wow Austin sounds fun!
    Number 3 made me feel sick though.

  • Reply Linda August 10, 2010 at 2:36 pm

    what a great post!

    Last I heard, Leslie was in a vegetative state 🙁

  • Reply Jessica August 10, 2010 at 2:38 pm

    "The Servant Girl Annihilator" is an amazing title to bestow upon someone.

    Great post.

  • Reply amy August 10, 2010 at 2:55 pm

    Wow– I didn't know about the moonlight towers or the parakeets, although I suspect that very shortly I will spot one of them (just because that's the way it works).

    Sorry to hear that you missed your deadline, but the article is still super interesting.

  • Reply Stacy August 10, 2010 at 2:56 pm

    So didn't know Leslie had is very own iPhone app! Gotta love that guy! But what is this about a vegetative state?

  • Reply Hipstercrite August 10, 2010 at 2:58 pm

    @Christin- I never knew about the moonlight towers until I worked on this post. I've been here almost two years!!!

    @Kelly Ann- ME TOO! So so so much. Love researching.

    @Emily- Come visit!

    @Linda- Leslie is alive and well (unless something happened very recently). A few months back he was beat up and in bad shape, but now he's ok and still dancin' on the streets!

    @Jessica- Isn't that name ridiculous? Oh, how witty the people of 1885 were!

    @Amy- I never knew about the moonlight towers either!

    @Stacy- Last I heard, Leslie is all better! 😀

  • Reply Hannah Miet August 10, 2010 at 4:04 pm

    I'm fascinated by Leslie, and scared to death of deadlines.

    On the first day of grad school, we each get a neighborhood "beat" that will be our focus for almost every article in the first semester. Mine could be Bushwick, or it could be Staten Island. Luck of the draw. But wherever it is, I hope to write about the local characters and myths like this. I love that stuff.

    Great article. I'm sorry it didn't make it.

  • Reply Geophrie August 10, 2010 at 4:59 pm

    I love this kind of stuff. It's a wonderful article and the pictures are fantastic! A true talent.

  • Reply Janee August 10, 2010 at 5:07 pm

    Great post! We need more writers like you to keep Austin from becoming a cliche.

  • Reply Hipstercrite August 10, 2010 at 5:37 pm

    @Hannah- Oh man! I bet you your neck of the woods has way more fascinating characters than my neck of the woods. However, there are some pretty strange people here in good ol' ATX.

    @Geophrie- Thanks! And nice to meet ya!

    @Janee- Thanks, but I'm not sure having a blog titled "Hipstercrite" helps me in the credibility department 😉

  • Reply Jenn August 10, 2010 at 5:40 pm

    Call me crazy, but I think everyone would like to know they were rolling around in "Poopie". I liked it!

  • Reply That Chelsea Girl™ August 10, 2010 at 5:53 pm

    Great article, although I already knew these things 🙂 I think I'll have my sister read it.

  • Reply Indie.Tea August 10, 2010 at 6:18 pm

    I've always wanted to visit Austin. And your post, with all of those interesting tidbits, makes me want to visit even more

  • Reply Hipstercrite August 10, 2010 at 6:54 pm

    @Jenn- Yeah, no one really gave a crap after they heard. Har har.

    @Chelsea- 😀

    @Indie.Tea- You should! It's amazing! You won't regret it. Wait til the summer is over though. It's hot as balls.

  • Reply Austin Eavesdropper August 10, 2010 at 10:11 pm

    Oh Lauren. I love this one.

    One of my other favorite (yet un-provable) myths? That the Driskill is haunted. Why they have not capitalized on this more – via a blowout, yet classy, Halloween party?? – remains the REAL mystery, in my opinion.

    Also? I loved too that you admitted missing your deadline. 🙂 Something of which I am perpetually guilty.

  • Reply fuss_13 August 10, 2010 at 10:27 pm

    I visited Austin a few months ago and fell in love with the place! I was amazed and surprised by all of the bats that live there under the Congress Avenue bridge!

    I wrote about it and my trip on my blog. Check it out if you have the time. (

  • Reply KeLLy aNN August 10, 2010 at 11:25 pm

    I would totally for him, too!

  • Reply The Good Groupie August 11, 2010 at 12:43 am

    Very interesting. Let's hope for no rain and dillo dirt this year at ACL…

  • Reply William August 11, 2010 at 5:11 am

    Fantastic bit of story you've written here.

  • Reply TabithaVenasse August 11, 2010 at 11:37 pm

    Now that is what I call one awesome freelance article.

    And don't feel too bad about missing the deadline; I think a lot of us freelancers are guilty of that. Either that, or it's just you and me.

  • Reply Jo August 12, 2010 at 9:17 am

    I'm clearly living in the wrong city… Although we do have a famous homeless guy known as "Cider Paul", but he never ran for mayor… I don't think.

    Nice article 🙂

  • Reply cj Schlottman August 12, 2010 at 11:17 am

    This post felt like a visit to Austin. Well done, Kid. And don't worry about the deadline. There will be others.


  • Reply theTsaritsa August 13, 2010 at 4:35 pm

    I was really happy to hear that the Oak tree survived! What a wacko!

    Oh, and the Austin City Limits poo-mud sounds similar to Woodstock 99 portapotty sludge. Fun 🙂

  • Reply Emily March 14, 2012 at 5:44 am

    Leslie Cochran passed away march 9, 2012 due to complications from his fall in 2009. The entire city was stricken and there is even talk of designating a special day just for him. He was more than an icon, he was friend to many. Always providing the opportunity for a laugh or a smile. Much like any cataclysmic, momentous, or stunning event can bring a community together…he was a walking, talking event. He embodied the laid-back, care-free, eclectic mindset that was so prevalent and indicative of old-school Austin..

    His passing unfortunately highlights the end of what the city once was… As a native, it bothers me that so many people moved here to celebrate that which was Austin…just to collective change it into any generic other city.

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