Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Tesla in Love

There is a moving story of the love of Tesla's life in the book, Tesla: A Prodigal Genius. Written by a man that knew the great inventor well, the book illustrates the often vast chasm between how a person may appear to others and the complicated machinery of human emotions.

It is perhaps an unfortunate fact that few people today are familiar with Nikola Tesla and his work. This was not the case about a hundred years ago and his name was as familiar and celebrated as Einstein or Edison. 

The inventor of wireless communication before Marconi, Tesla was "widely respected as one of the greatest electrical engineers who worked in America. Much of his early work pioneered modern electrical engineering and many of his discoveries were of groundbreaking importance. During this period, in the United States, Tesla's fame rivaled that of any other inventor or scientist in history or popular culture but due to his eccentric personality and his seemingly unbelievable and sometimes bizarre claims about possible scientific and technological developments, Tesla was ultimately ostracized and regarded as a mad scientist" (wikipedia)

In the last decades of his life, Tesla's reputation suffered. Many of his claims, such as a death ray weapon and invisible defensive energy shield, were mocked and ridiculed. His competitors had also successfully undermined his ability to locate sufficient funding for his projects by portraying him as a unstable type or, still worse, as a con-man. Today, most see him as a victim of being born too soon.
During the last three decades of his life, it is probable that not one out of tens of thousands who saw him knew who he was. His fame had died down and the generation that knew him well had passed on. Even when the newspapers, once a year, would break out in headlines about Tesla and his latest predictions concerning scientific wonders to come, no one associated that name with the excessively tall, very lean man, wearing clothes of a bygone era, who almost daily appeared to feed his feathered friends. He was just one of the strange individuals of whom it takes a great many of varying types to make up a complete population of a great metropolis.
By the mid-1920s, his situation became so precarious that he was unable to maintain offices or to pay the salaries of his secretaries. During this time, his behavior became more and more eccentric. He became unstable even to those who knew him well, unreasonably attached to street pigeons.
It was hard for almost everyone to understand why Tesla, engaged in momentous scientific developments, working twice as many hours as the average individual, could see his way clear to spend time scattering bird seed. The Herald Tribune, in an editorial, once stated: "He would leave his experiments for a time and feed the silly and inconsequential pigeons in Herald Square."
Even his close associates were disturbed by his obsessive behavior and its effects were becoming more and more a sign of the inventor's mental instability. He would wander alone down Fifth Avenue after midnight to deliver food for his pigeons. 

If he were ill or otherwise unable to make his pigeon feeding rounds, he would call a Western Union messenger boy and, for a fee plus a dollar tip, send him to scatter seed for the birds.
In addition to feeding the birds in the streets, Tesla took care of pigeons in his rooms in the various hotels in which he made his home. He usually had basket nests for from one to four pigeons in his room and kept a cask of seed on hand to feed them. The window to the room in which he kept these nests was never closed.
A short time later he was forced to leave his apartment in the Hotel St. Regis. His bill had been unpaid for some time, but the immediate cause was associated with pigeons. He had been spending more time in his hotel room, which also became his office, and devoted more time to feeding pigeons. Great flocks of them would come to his windows and into the rooms, and their dirt on the outside of the building became a problem to the management and on the inside to the maids.
He sought to solve the problem by putting the birds in a hamper and having George Scherff take them to his Westchester home.
Three weeks later, when first given their freedom, they returned, one making the trip in half an hour. Tesla was given his choice of ceasing to feed the pigeons or leaving the hotel. He left. He next made his home at the Hotel Pennsylvania. He remained there a few years and the same situation, both as to bills and pigeons, developed. He moved to the Hotel Governor Clinton--and in about a year went through the same experience. He next moved to the Hotel New Yorker, in 1933, where he spent the final ten years of his life.
It was the love story of Tesla's life. In the story of his strange romance, I saw instantly the reason for those unremitting daily journeys to feed the pigeons, and those midnight pilgrimages when he wished to be alone. I recalled those occasions when I had happened to meet him on deserted Fifth Avenue and, when I spoke to him, he replied, "You will now leave me." He told his story simply, briefly and without embellishments, but there was still a surging of emotion in his voice.
"Yes," he replied to an unasked question. "Yes, I loved that pigeon, I loved her as a man loves a woman, and she loved me. When she was ill I knew, and understood; she came to my room and I stayed beside her for days. I nursed her back to health. That pigeon was the joy of my life. If she needed me, nothing else mattered. As long as I had her, there was a purpose in my life.
"Then one night as I was lying in my bed in the dark, solving problems, as usual, she flew in through the open window and stood on my desk. I knew she wanted me; she wanted to tell me something important so I got up and went to her. "As I looked at her I knew she wanted to tell me--she was dying. And then, as I got her message, there came a light from her eyes--powerful beams of light.
"Yes," he continued, again answering an unasked question, "it was a real light, a powerful, dazzling, blinding light, a light more intense than I had ever produced by the most powerful lamps in my laboratory. "When that pigeon died, something went out of my life. Up to that time I knew with a certainty that I would complete my work, no matter how ambitious my program, but when that something went out of my life I knew my life's work was finished. "Yes, I have fed pigeons for years; I continue to feed them, thousands of them, for after all, who can tell--"
There was nothing more to say. We parted in silence. The talk took place in a corner of the mezzanine in the Hotel New Yorker. I was accompanied by William L. Laurence, science writer of the New York Times.
We walked several blocks on Seventh Avenue before we spoke. No longer was there any mystery to the midnight pilgrimages when he called the pigeons from their niches in the Gothic tracery of the Cathedral, or from under the eaves of the Greek temple that houses the Library--pursuing, among the thousands of them . . . "For after all, who can tell . . .?"

1 comment:

  1. he is one of the most interesting characters from last century. They shoul make a movie about him.


Always great to hear from visitors to Nomadic View. What's on your mind?


Related Posts with Thumbnails