Yesterday I welcomed in my thirties with some crab-eating, bowling, and movies with my family. I’ve got to say, I’m pretty happy for making it this far and surviving thirty years (I tend to be disaster-prone).
And although it’s no longer my birthday, I’m going to be self-indulgent one last time and share an off-topic post today. However, it’s for a good cause – so I hope by the end you think straying off-topic was worth it.
When Scott and I first dated, I was enamoured by his embrace of his Serbian heritage and of one historic Serbian in particular – the inventor and genius Nikola Tesla.
Admittedly, my first introduction to Tesla was when Scott lent me Matt Fraction’s fictitious steampunk romp Five Fists of Science, which sparked an interest in learning more about the real-life Tesla and his rivalry with Thomas Edison during the War of the Currents.
History tends to favor the strong (or in this case, publicity and profit-minded) and while Tesla’s work on Westinghouse’s alternating current system was later admitted to be far superior to Edison’s direct current, it’s Edison who is most often heralded in history textbooks as the father of the electric age.
Tesla’s contributions to modern science went beyond more-efficient electricity. Recently, Matthew Inman’s The Oatmeal webcomic published what I think is his best comic essay yet: Why Nikola Tesla was the Greatest Geek Who Ever Lived.
Go read it if you’d like to learn more about Tesla’s achievements and the sad ups and downs of a genius (much like Van Gogh and Poe) who was not as appreciated in life as he was in death.
Inman has taken his love for Tesla one step further – which is where you and I come in.
The land that Tesla’s old Wardenclyffe laboratory once stood on is now up for sale.
There are two parties interested in purchasing it: an individual interested in potentially tearing down the laboratory and using the space for a retail establishment, and the nonprofit Friends of Science East who want to permanently protect the historic site and build the first Tesla museum in the United States.
New York state has promised to donate $850K, if the foundation raised at least the same amount. And working with Inman, they have started Operation: Let’s Build a Goddamn Tesla Museum on Indiegogo.
As of this morning, they’ve broken the $1 million mark. All additional money raised will go towards funding the Tesla Science Center’s construction.
So between now and Sept. 29, you, I and everyone else across the world who donates can help this become a reality. Because let’s be honest, ours and future generations will be much better off visiting a Tesla museum than another mall.
Plus there are plenty of fun bonuses depending on what amount you donate (I’m looking forward to getting my “Tesla > Edison” bumper sticker).
Still not convinced? Well since this is a blog about Cleveland, here are 3 reasons – in honor of Tesla’s favorite number – why Clevelanders should love Tesla.
#1 Tesla embraced his Slavic culture.
Tesla was born in Smiljan to Serbian parents before moving to America in his late twenties to continue pursuing his scientific work. In his youth, he founded a Serbian culture club at Austrian Polytechnic and later wrote about his pride in his Serbian heritage and Croatian homeland.
Evident in much of Cleveland’s food and neighborhoods is a heavy Slavic influence – with the city boasting one of the largest Slovenian communities in particular.
Serbian culture is alive and well at St. Sava Serbian Orthodox Cathedral in Parma whose annual Serbian festival celebrates the food, drink, music and religion. And information about a Serbian language and culture program at CSU can also be found at www.stsavacathedral.org.
#2 Nikola Tesla was a misunderstood underdog.
From hydroelectric plants to RADAR, radio and wireless communications, Tesla had a very significant hand in some of the inventions that define modern science. However, he spent most of it being broke — eventually at age 86 after years of scientific innovation succumbed to mental illness.
He lived in a time when society wanted results that could turn a profit – like the lightbulb (which Edison was able to make money off of by finalizing and patenting the work of 22 other men before him).
The fact that his personality quirks and desire to innovate for the sake of bettering society didn’t fit into the public’s expectations hurt him in the end.
It’s the same misunderstood spirit that drew me to Cleveland in the first place and whose residents’ desire for innovation and creativity keep me here.
#3 Tesla is seeing a resurgence and starting to get the belated credit he deserves.
The attention the Tesla museum has recently been getting is just the latest in a surge of pro-Tesla support.
Since the 1990s, popular culture has helped raise his awareness and a number of organizations like the electric car company Tesla Motors and Cleveland-based Tesla Orchestra have taken inspiration from their namesake.
Once the butt of many jokes, Cleveland is seeing a similar resurgence and renewal, getting credit for its medical and tech communities; culinary, performing and visual arts; and creative economic development ideas in a struggling national economy.
So even if you aren’t inspired to donate because of Tesla’s contributions to science or because it’ll make my day, do it in honor of a man whose spirit was very much like this city and “let’s build a goddamn Tesla museum!“