Imagine that there was a genius who has been systematically ignored, overlooked, and even lied about for a century. Imagine further that this man is responsible for the technological underpinnings of the modern world. Imagine that he created such things as x-ray photography, robotics, microwave transmission, and still holds the original patent that all computer companies must rely on-only he patented the original in the 1890's. Imagine that he actually invented radio but has never been credited for it. Imagine at the same time that this fellow intimately knew the most powerful and influential people of his age: J.P. Morgan, the Vanderbilts, the Astors, Sarah Bernhardt, George Westinghouse, Thomas Edison, Mark Twain, Stanford White, and a host of others in the prestigious New York 400. Imagine that his inventions alone drastically changed the life of that city, and then the nation, and then the world. Imagine, too, that his story is actually a very personal one despite the power of his inventions. It is the story of an immigrant who stepped on our shores with just four cents in his pocket. It is the story of his rise in the culture and life of the nation when it was still young. It is the story of his tangled relationship with a woman of spirit who became the fulcrum of all he attempted to achieve. Finally, imagine that he may have created the most powerful invention of all time at Wardenclyffe, Long Island-a thing that scientists still try to comprehend but to no avail. Understand, lastly, that much of what he created and how he created it was a hundred years before its time and is still largely a mystery to the best scientists and thinkers in the world today. Imagine all of that and you have TESLA, the story of Nikola Tesla, the man who did all this and more-the unsung hero of an age that has forgotten its heroes.
Barnes & Noble.com
Books by Walter Stewart
Wade McAllister, or Mac as he preferred to be called by intimates, had organized all of the really important balls in New York for as long as anyone could remember. As a Southerner from Savannah who spent a good deal of his youth living with a rich maiden aunt in New York, early on in life he became comfortable moving back and forth between the industrial North and the agrarian South. During the great conflict between the States, he spent most of his time cultivating New York society. And because of the tone he always used when commenting on the war, it came as no surprise to anyone that McAllister considered what he referred to as the “discord” as little more than a nuisance directed at him personally so as to make his job as the arbiter of good taste and the organizer of a proper social calendar for his New York minions just that much more difficult.
McAllister was of average height and wore a mustache and van Dyke goatee over a supercilious smile. He had used the smile and his practiced, easy Southern drawl both to good advantage in order to charm the elite who represented the wealth and power of the country. To receive a specially embossed invitation to a ball from Ward McAllister on behalf of whichever rich mucky-muck was, in a word, proof positive that one had “arrived” in society and had fortuitously acquired a privilege that was not to be taken lightly.
How many a New York matron had attempted through bribes, favors, and even tears to fob off a daughter on him as a respectable addition to his list of the cherished 400—a list he himself had invented out of thin air of the best in New York? Yet he endured all the pestering, the pleading, and the crying of these supplicants with a resilience born of experience and his knowledge that the people he chose were the best—not necessarily the richest, nor the best looking, nor even the most politically influential. They were simply the best by dint of his belief that they had been chosen by fate or Providence as the best leaders in society and the ones who should steer the community in terms of its politics, social comportment, inclinations, continuation, and above all, taste. The congeniality in this little claque of people and their mutual good regard, no matter how much they really detested each other, was, thus, one of privilege and necessity, and was gloriously enshrined in their unspoken maxim, nous nous soutenons—we support each other.
As Nikola Tesla stood before the door of the imposing mansion at 840 Fifth Avenue, the sovereign province of Jack Astor’s mother, he considered the printed invitation for a last time before he placed it between his forefinger and middle finger and passed it to the servant with a flick of the wrist. The servant looked it over, nodded, signaled someone inside, and Tesla passed over the threshold of Caroline Astor’s home on the special red carpet that had been laid out just that morning—the conventional public sign that an evening was to be given.
Tesla walked to the door of the mansion’s ballroom where another servant made a hand motion for him to pause. The fellow double-checked a register and then faced into the ballroom.
“Mr. Nikola Tesla,” he announced in a loud voice that instantly evoked the gawking of some of the 400 and the turning of a number of heads—not unlike the response of nervous chickens kept in a box. Tesla smiled and strode into the room, cutting an impressive figure. Not a few of the women looked up starry-eyed as they always did when he went anywhere. He always supposed that this reaction to his presence derived from some inexplicable deep-seated belief that height automatically conveyed attributes of protection, power, and success. Tesla smiled to himself once again. In his case he felt it was all too true.
The ballroom, he had to admit, was beautiful. Great vases sat at intervals along the walls along with all manner of flowers and greenery in which birds sang in artfully made cages. The lights from the similarly adorned golden chandeliers cast a golden glow over everything. In fact, great care was taken to ensure that no detail of the affair was overlooked. A string quartet softly played an inoffensive Mozart divertimento somewhere out of direct sight of the guests. Servants circulated with glasses of champagne punch and passed out cigars that were wrapped in hundred dollar bills.
Tesla moved about the ballroom talking with a number of people, some of whom had been to the Chicago Fair. They reported their amazement at the things he had created. Why didn’t he die from the million volts? How did he make the fluorescent light with the names work? Why didn’t the metal egg fall? Tesla took each question in turn and answered patiently with scientific detachment using his expressive hands to help them visualize the shape and mechanics of his inventions. Inevitably, some people understood, some didn’t; some feigned understanding.
“Mr. and Mrs. John Jacob Astor IV,” announced the herald at the door as Tesla was engaged in conversation with a couple, and he glanced over to see Jack accompanied by his wife, Ava, a pretty, though hard-bitten-looking woman whose expression reflected the irritation of having attended one-too-many affairs like this or, perhaps, of having to accompany her husband. There was a momentary silence, and then the chatter began again. But even from where Tesla stood, he could hear Ava’s brisk, insistent stride by the way she pounded her little heels into the parquet floor, as though her will somehow resided in the force of each step. Notwithstanding, the assemblage produced some overlong muffled, gloved applause since Jack was, after all, the son of the hostess.
A man with longish graying hair and a smoldering cigar in his hand sans the expensive wrapper sauntered over to Tesla, planted himself squarely in front of him, and stuck his hand out.
“I’m Mark Twain, Mr. Tesla,” he stated flatly, grasping the other’s hand and pumping it twice smartly. Tesla was dumbstruck.
“Mr. Twain,” he said, “this is an honor.”
Twain shook his head. “Honor’s all mine, Mr. Tesla,” he returned. “‘Bout five years ago, I was one of the first people to recognize what you were doin’ and to support your work, y’know?”
“I’m speechless,” was all Tesla could get out.
“Aww,” said Twain with a dismissive wave. “Anybody can make a speech; not many people can rip lightning from the gods,” he went on and plugged the stogie in his mouth. “B’sides, Robert thinks you’re probably a genius, and I need to hang out with all the people I can who have more brains than I do,” he added with an elfish grin.
“Robert?” asked Tesla. “Robert,” Twain repeated. “Robert Johnson. Publisher of The Century.”
“Ah, yes, yes. I recall,” he replied. “We didn’t have a very formal introduction.”
“Well, Robert certainly loves proper etiquette, so you can go to his house and be as dad-gummed official as y’like.”
The two laughed together, and from this descriptive introduction, Tesla began to understand what the underpinnings of New York society were. Just then, a servant with a tray of the specially wrapped cigars came around.
“‘Scuse me,” said Twain as he grabbed a handful of the specially wrapped beauties and stuffed them into his coat pocket. “Can’t get these just any place—especially not on my budget. The wrappers don’t hurt none either and make darn good souvenirs.” Twain wiggled his eyebrows up and down, and he and Tesla laughed together.
“Mr. and Mrs. Theodore Roosevelt,” bellowed the doorman in the background. Twain and Tesla looked over momentarily, clapped a couple of times unenthusiastically and took as little serious notice of the new entrants as everyone else.
“Uh, Mr. Twain . . .” Tesla began but was waved off.
“Sam Clemens is m’real name, but everyone calls me Mark. I’ve gotten used to it,” he said.
“Mark,” Tesla responded. “Call me Nick or Niko, if you like. My name’s Nikola, but like you, nobody ever seems to get that right.”
Twain laughed loudly. “I like that. All right. Niko it is!” he agreed.
“Why, Ma-wk,” then interrupted an oily smooth Southern voice as a man walked up to the pair. “So good ta see yuh,” the man gushed. “And you must be that fascinatin’ Mr. Tesla,” said the interloper with a smile, taking Tesla’s hand and providing it with a flabby, slightly moist handshake.
“Hi, Mac,” replied Mark unenthusiastically as he concentrated on the ash of his cigar. Wade McAllister stood before them in his goatee and a boutonnière. He smoked one of the costly cigars and was already down to the presidential portrait.
“Nice to have yuh here among us, Mr. Tesla,” he said with a drawl that seemed to add an extra syllable to every word. Tesla looked askance at the man.
“But you have me at a disadvantage. You are . . .”
“Wade McAllister,” Mark put in blandly. He waved his good smoking arm in an arc around the room. “He’s the one responsible for all of . . . this.”
McAllister bowed a little. “So good of yuh ta say so.”
“Believe me,” replied Mark with a smile, “it was nothing.” He plugged his stogie back into his mouth and folded his arms contentedly.
Wade McAllister smiled as politely as the breeding and fashion of the last twenty years had taught him.
“No, it is really beautiful,” Tesla put in with honest appreciation.
“Yes, Klunder’s always does a splendid job with the plants,” McAllister explained. “At any rate, always a pleasure ta talk with yuh, Ma-wk,” he said as he linguistically bashed more syllables. “Oh, and Mr. Tesla . . .”
Tesla raised his eyebrows questioningly.
“It would be a kindness if you’d permit me ta take yuh ova ta meet the hostess a little later. It’s absolutely comme il faut,” he explained, not missing the opportunity to use his inimitable twang to destroy French the way he’d already mangled English. And with that, he left.
“What a bag o’ wind,” groused Mark.