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Gordon Knight: The newsboy whose wanderlust helped him dodge a bullet

 Gordon Knight, pictured in 1960, started hawking newspapers in the 1930s.
Austin American-Statesman
Gordon Knight, pictured in 1960, started hawking newspapers in the 1930s.

This story was originally published on Aug. 3, 2016.

In 1966, Gordon Knight quite literally dodged a bullet.

The longtime Austin American-Statesman newspaper salesman should’ve been walking his usual beat on the west side of UT Austin on August 1, when Charles Whitman opened fire from his perch on the UT Tower. But he wasn’t, and late that morning, a bullet from Whitman’s rifle found another newsboy: 17-year-old Alex Hernandez.

The Travis High Student was riding along with his cousin when he was shot in the hip, shattering his femur and knocking him off his bike, as author Gary Lavergne describes in his book “A Sniper in the Tower:"

The bullet went through his hip, blowing out much of the top of his leg, smashing the femur bone, and lodging into the bicycle’s seat. The boys were thrown to the sidewalk. His cousin tried to help. As Alex remembered later: “He was only ten or eleven years old and he tried to help me. I said, ‘You can’t help me, just go and hide.’ I remember tears coming down as he tried to help me.

Hernandez survived the ordeal, returning to classes at Travis High School in January 1967 after receiving a silver plate in his hip. But, the reason he was even working that day was because of Knight's absence. Knight was prone to taking long vacations in the summer months to escape the Texas heat. 

And, for a newsboy, Knight was well traveled. 

He attended the World's Fair in 1939 and the World's Fair in 1964, both of which were in New York, and in, both instances, he traveled by rail. Knight was also a noted Anglophile. Knight told the Statesman in 1953, he first became obsessed with England in fourth grade in a history class. 
In 1953, Knight finally got the chance to visit England, which he called "heaven," adding he "just couldn't get enough of it."  

He witnessed Queen Elizabeth's coronation parade in London, and, he said, even met Winston Churchill. He later visited London again in 1960 and in 1970 – ironically, accounts of all his exploits were covered extensively in the very papers he sold every morning on UT's campus. But, Knight's obsession also spilled over into the editorial page, where he often wrote letters to the editors of the Statesman. 

While the letters often extolled the St. Louis Cardinals or the Arkansas Razorbacks –he wasn't a huge fan of the Longhorns – they were also outlets for his Anglophilia – all signed "Gordon M. Knight, 2812 Windsor Road," where he lived with his mother. 

One letter praised the country's level-headedness in the shadow of the Space Race:

"With this knowledge of past achievements, and quite certain their scientists are second to none, Britons sleep soundly and discuss Russia's space statellites [sic] calmly instead of being frightened and confused like their American allies."

Another lamented the state of U.S. tax policy, suggesting England's "prosperity must cause our thoughtful citizens to wonder if the time has come for this nation to rejoin the British Commonwealth for our 'national security.'"

In September of 1970, he told the Statesman he flew once over the English Channel in 1960. After that, he told the paper, "never more." 

Aside from Knight's longwinded vacation, H.D. "Doc" Quigg of the UPI also placed part of Hernandez's bad luck on the Statesman presses' efficiency, as the paper had gone to press early: 

The boy on the bicycle was a vacation replacement for Gordon Knight, "permanent fixture on the campus" as newspaper deliverer. The substituting Alec Hernandez had bad luck born of efficiency that got the American-Statesman out 10 minutes early. The sales department said that "if it had been out when it normally is, Alec would not have been shot."

Andrew Weber is a general assignment reporter for KUT, focusing on criminal justice, policing, courts and homelessness in Austin and Travis County. Got a tip? You can email him at Follow him on Twitter @England_Weber.
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