Nikola Tesla documentary premieres on Long Island

Nikola Tesla documentary premieres on Long Island

The Wardenclyffe site in Shoreham. File photo by Erika Karp

“A man sees in the world what he carries in his heart,” reads one of many quotes from Johann Wolfgang von Goethe’s “Faust” contained in “Tower to the People.” If this is so, Tesla’s heart must have been ablaze with electrical impulses and potential for change.

By Talia Amorosano

On Friday, people of all ages congregated at Shoreham-Wading River High School to celebrate a very special occasion: Nikola Tesla’s 159th birthday.

They came bearing monetary gifts in the form of ticket purchases to see filmmaker Joseph Sikorski’s “Tower to the People” Long Island premiere at the school, which is located a little more than a mile and a half away from Tesla’s Wardenclyffe laboratory. The proceeds from the event will be used to fund the continued restoration of the site — Tesla’s last.

Using bold, mixed media visuals, color saturated re-enactments and original photographs from the early 1900s, the film documents the history of Tesla’s work at Wardenclyffe, a former potato farm, where the inventor planned to complete what he anticipated would be his greatest invention and contribution to mankind — a 187-foot-tall tower capable of transmitting free wireless energy to the entire world.

“A man sees in the world what he carries in his heart,” reads one of many quotes from Johann Wolfgang von Goethe’s “Faust” contained in “Tower to the People.” If this is so, Tesla’s heart must have been ablaze with electrical impulses and potential for change. Among the literal highlights of Tesla’s career documented in the film are his successful attempt to wirelessly illuminate incandescent light bulbs from three miles away, creation of the Tesla coil and introduction of alternate current electricity, reception of transmissions from stars and ability to produce artificial lightning that author and Tesla scholar Jack Hitt described as being “so powerful that the thunder of it was heard miles away.”

"Tower to the People" filmmaker Joseph Sikorski speaks at Shoreham-Wading River High School on Friday, July 9. Photo by Talia Amorosano
“Tower to the People” filmmaker Joseph Sikorski speaks at Shoreham-Wading River High School on Friday, July 9. Photo by Talia Amorosano

Unfortunately for Tesla, his brilliant moments are dimmed by disappointment during his later life. The film portrayed Tesla’s persistence when, among other negative events, former funder J.P. Morgan, refused to pay for the completion of the tower and even dissuaded other potential investors from financing him. After writing pleading letters and attempting to come up with the money himself, in an emotion-wrought scene, Tesla’s Wardenclyffe tower is destroyed by dynamite explosion, as ordered by the U.S. government.

However, “Tower to the People” does end on an uplifting note with the story of Wardenclyffe’s salvation through Internet crowd-funding; explorations of the modern-day property that is now owned by the nonprofit group, Tesla Science Center; and volunteer efforts to clean up Tesla’s run-down laboratory and turn it into a science center.

“As a kid, my parents could never get me to do yard work, but if you ask me to mow Tesla’s lawn, how awesome is that?” said a volunteer on the cleanup crew in the film.

Throughout the event, the crowd was clearly electrified, erupting into applause several times during key moments of the film, and afterwards honoring Sikorski’s homage to Tesla and Wardenclyffe with a standing ovation.

Most of the audience also stayed for a question and answer session with Sikorski and Jane Alcorn, president of the Tesla Science Center, during which Sikorski expressed his belief that there are tunnels under Wardenclyffe and Alcorn revealed hopes to potentially excavate these tunnels after the primary grounds-cleaning goals are achieved, “as time and money permits.”

Finally, a special guest and distant relative of Tesla, Dusan Stojanovic, of True Global Ventures, took the podium to donate $33,000 to the Wardenclyffe project effort. He also gave money to three young inventors whose innovations were inspired by Tesla; most notably, giving $15,000 to a young man involved with creating clothing with his invention, the Electroloom, a 3-D fabric printer.

Alcorn hopes the completed science center will be open to the public in a few years, and in the meantime, plans to continue fundraising efforts until the property is fully restored.

If you are interested in donating to the science center, getting involved with grounds cleanup, or learning more about the Wardenclyffe property, check out www.teslasciencecenter.org.

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