Monday, January 16, 2012

Movie Screening: “Doomed Tower At Sea”

Bernardsville Public Library is pleased to present a screening of the documentary, “Doomed Tower at Sea,” on Sunday, January 29 at 2:00 pm in the library’s Community Room. The film was produced by Paul G. Sanderson III of Bernardsville in 2003 and is being shown again now to commemorate the 51th anniversary of the collapse a Cold War-era observation tower that served the Eastern Seaboard as an early-warning system against Soviet air strikes. The wreck, which rivals that of the Titanic in size, lies ninety miles off the coast of New Jersey.

The initial plan called for five radar towers to be built along the Eastern Seaboard during the 1950s, but only three were actually constructed, and the one off the coast of New Jersey fell victim to the sea in 1961, claiming the lives of all the workers on board. This tower, TT4 (Tower 4), was furthest from the coast and was constructed on the Continental Shelf, a poor choice of location due to the quick drop-off of the seafloor from 200 feet to 2,000 feet, a geographic anomaly which often produces strong waves and poor surface conditions.

The towers were called the “Texas Towers,” due to their resemblance to oil rigs off the coast of Texas, but were in fact radar towers outfitted with elaborate computer systems and the latest technology designed to scan the skies for Russian bombers. The information kept aboard the towers was classified and designated top secret. Though the towers were regarded as engineering marvels for their time, veterans who served on TT4 recalled how it shook in even moderate seas, earning it the nickname “Old Shaky.” Though the tower rose 90 feet out of the water, which was considered a safe enough distance from rough surfaces to weather any storm, on January 15, 1961, pounding waves from a nor’easter toppled TT4, bringing the tower and its crew crashing into the sea.

While the incident initially appeared in the media, President John F. Kennedy’s inaugural address five days later quickly usurped the nation’s attention, and the fall of TT4 was mostly forgotten. The tower’s remnants remain one of the largest underwater wrecks in the world, according to Sanderson. “It’s like a small city,” he said.

“It was great to work on,” Sanderson said of the film. “Part of the story involved taking a closer look at the wreck, which made it pretty exciting.” To get up-close footage of the tower’s wreckage, Sanderson employed the help of Al Giddings, a noted underwater cinematographer who shot footage for “Titanic” and worked on several “James Bond” films. With analyses from engineering experts, interviews with the commanders involved and Giddings himself, film clips of life aboard TT4 during the 1950s, and extraordinary documentation of the crumbling remains, Sanderson’s film sheds some much-needed light on an overlooked aspect of the Cold War and of our nation’s history during that turbulent time.

There is no charge to attend this film screening, but advance registration is requested. Register online at, and follow the link under Adult Programs, or call the library at 908-766-0118 to sign up.

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