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Tracking Tesla

Last year I wrote of visiting the Nikola Tesla Museum. This year we went again and found good news. Let’s set the scene.

Wardenclyffe_Tower Tesla

Tesla Tower under construction in 1902

Nikola Tesla, for those who may have been raised on a restricted diet of Thomas Edison, is the Serbian inventor who really did bring light to the world with major innovations. George Westinghouse backed Tesla’s alternating-current (AC) technology against Edison Electric’s direct-current (DC). In the end, General Electric bought both up and now nearly all the world’s electric systems deliver AC. Tesla made a huge contribution to humanity that’s well worth a museum.

It turns out that the world has two Nikola Tesla Museums. Well, sort of. One is a worthy wannabe in Wardenclyffe, New York, a site where Tesla tried to build a giant tower to talk to the world; you can help to preserve it here. Its supporters have a website that says:

‘At present, Wardenclyffe and the property it sits on is an active industrial cleanup and reconstruction site, one which poses potentially hazardous conditions.’

Tesla Museum in Belgrade

Tesla Museum in Belgrade

However hazardous, the property is said to have a Tesla statue. And here allow me to correct my last Tesla post: Tesla Motors owner Elon Musk gave a million bucks to this some-day-maybe museum, not the Tesla Museum in Belgrade, Serbia.

Belgrade’s is the one we visit. It has a lot more than a statue but it doesn’t have a lot of money. It is a fine building on a quiet street. It looks like a museum. It has rooms full of Tesla’s machines. Volunteers will turn them on for you so you can see how they work. And in an alcove is an urn—a golden sphere—that holds his ashes. Last time I wrote of how Serbian politicians passed a law that forced the Museum to transfer the ashes to the huge, empty Saint Sava Cathedral in Belgrade. None of my business; but it seemed to me to be a travesty.

Park by Temple of Saint Sava

Park by Temple of Saint Sava

That’s not the only thing that was looking grim in Belgrade last year. The whole city felt like it was still digging out after the disastrous reign of accused war-criminal Slobodan Milošević. Distrust was still the rule so when you smiled at people on the street they would not meet your eyes.

This year Belgrade has the feeling of a different city. Families watch kids at play in parks. People chat in restaurants and greet you on the streets. Of course there are still traces of the Balkan troubles. On our way to the museum a woman lugging a big box barks angrily at us in Serb as we walk by. But when we respond in English she says, smiling sweetly, ‘Sorry, sorry, I think you are Serbs. Please, please, can you take this key and open my door.’

We find the same quiet street and same imposing building. Same exhibits doing all the same amazing things. And there’s the same golden urn in the alcove. A staffer tells me they believe that the

Urn with Tesla’s ashes in Museum

Urn with Tesla’s ashes in Museum

Museum has succeeded in the battle of the ashes. Hopefully the world’s one-and-only up-and-running Tesla show-and-tell museum will survive until next time we visit.

Other Reading:

Maddy French (2104), “Nikola Tesla’s ashes spark row between Serbian scientists and Orthodox church”, The Guardian, http://www.theguardian.com/science/2014/mar/04/nikola-tesla-ashes-serbian-scientists-church-belgrade

Image Sources: Tesla Wardenclyffe Project Archive; Rburg87; Colin Gillespie; VasenkaPhotography

[Captions: Tesla Tower under construction in 1902; Tesla Museum in Belgrade; Park by Temple of Saint Sava; Urn with Tesla’s ashes in Museum]

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