Red Legacy is a collection of notes on the possible intersections between commune building, land use, and art practice.
Aug 17, 2009
Tesla in Colorado Springs
Since moving to Colorado Springs a week ago, I've become more interested in one of the city's unsung heroes, Nikola Tesla. A serb, born in 1856 and whom lived all over the world before eventually becoming an American citizen, Tesla was an inventor who made revolutionary developments in the field of electromagnetism. He devised what later became known as the X-Ray and the radio and also experimented with the first wireless energy transfers. In 1893, he and George Westinghouse introduced the world to AC electricity at the Chicago World's Fair. Tesla spent only nine months in Colorado Springs, yet it was here that he made some of his most significant breakthroughs of his career. He moved to the Front Range for its wide open spaces, fueled by dreams of sending wireless telegraphy from the top of Pikes Peak all the way to Paris. Tesla's experimental station was a contraption with a roof that rolled back to prevent it from catching fire, and a wooden tower that soared up eighty feet. Above it was a 142-foot metal mast supporting a large copper ball. Inside the strange wooden structure, technicians assembled an enormous Tesla coil, specially designed to send powerful electrical impulses into the earth.
In the Colorado Springs lab, Tesla observed unusual signals that he later thought may have been evidence of extraterrestrial radio communications coming from Venus or Mars. Tesla had mentioned before this event and many times after, that he thought his inventions could be used to communicate with other planets. There have even been claims that he invented a "Teslascope" for just such a purpose. During one of Tesla's major experiments, assistants threw power switches causing huge arcs of blue electricity to travel up and down the center coil of the lab. Bolts of man-made lightning more than a hundred feet in length shot out from the mast atop the station. Tesla's experiment burned out the dynamo at the El Paso Electric Company and the entire city lost power. The power station manager was livid, and insisted that Tesla pay for and repair the damage.
Tesla left Colorado Springs on January 7, 1900 following the richest experimentation period of his life. It is unclear to me why or in what state he left Colorado. The lab was torn down and its contents sold to pay debts. He went to New York and conducted experiments from which developed flying machines, "directed-energy weapons" and various electromagnetic patents. When he was eighty-one, Tesla stated he had completed a "dynamic theory of gravity." He stated that it was "worked out in all details" and that he hoped to soon give it to the world. Yet the theory was never published. In fact he died alone and destitute in the New Yorker Hotel on January 7, 1943. His closest friend was a pigeon. As Tesla confessed: "Yes, I loved that pigeon, I loved her as a man loves a woman, and she loved me."
There is virtually no trace of Tesla in Colorado Springs and yet the world (and certainly the military industrial complex) thrives here as a result of his inventions. It's interesting to me that Tesla chose to come here in the first place -- he must have sensed something special, beyond the open space, perhaps the same thing that has lured the military, the evangelists, the new agers, Ute Indians, and tourists. It's certainly no coincidence that NORAD and the Christian Right have been speaking to the heavens from Tesla's same vantage point. There's a peculiar energy here in this city that sprawls beneath its giant mountain. As I write, thunders rolls down the Front Range and out towards Kansas. Tesla's words feel bold tonight.
"There is no thing endowed with life—from man, who is enslaving the elements, to the nimblest creature—in all this world that does not sway in its turn. Whenever action is born from force, though it be infinitesimal, the cosmic balance is upset and the universal motion results."
Read more about Tesla's experiments in Colorado Springs in his journals from this time, called Colorado Springs Notes, 1899–1900 (ISBN 8617073527), compiled and edited by Aleksandar Marinčić and Vojin Popović.