Niagara Gazette

October 16, 2012

BRADBERRY: Tesla, Tubman and we deserve better

By Bill Bradberry
Niagara Gazette

Niagara Gazette — Genius inventor Nikola Tesla, and Underground Railroad pioneer Harriett Tubman each made world changing history, its time their contributions are more visibly recognized right here in Niagara Falls.

I don’t remember the first time I heard about either one of them, it was probably some time while I was in grade school, unable to fully comprehend who they were, what they accomplished, and that much of what they did actually happened right here within walking distance of my own backyard.

Over the past few years, my steadily growing interests in these two giant characters has led me to realize that in spite of their world-wide fame and instant name recognition, there is little trace of their existence here in one of the most visited tourist destinations in the world where some of their most important achievements took place in, around and because of the mighty Niagara.

This has led me to wonder what we might do to change that and what benefit might we and our guests derive by doing so.

I should admit for the record, that I am somewhat biased by the fact that as a chronic history buff, a committed historic preservationist, and an avid public art advocate, I believe that one of the keys to this city’s future lies in her spectacular past; that we can and should, at least in part, rebuild our city and the region’s future on the shoulders of our fascinating history.

I was reminded again the other day when the History Channel re-ran one of their Modern Marvels episodes that originally ran in May of 2008 called Mad Electricity, a captivating examination of Tesla.

Often referred to as the “father of the 20th century because of his amazing discoveries, inventions and sometimes frightening vision of the future, Tesla is best known for his contributions to the design of the alternating current.”

In fact, as they proudly boast on their internet site, the Tesla Society of New York declares, “Nikola Tesla and George Westinghouse built the first hydro-electric power plant in 1895 in Niagara Falls and started the electrification of the world.”

They also quote Tesla’s words spoken Jan. 12, 1897, at the facility’s opening ceremony, so profound, they bear repeating in part:

"We have many a monument of past ages; we have the palaces and pyramids, the temples of the Greek and the cathedrals of Christendom. In them is exemplified the power of men, the greatness of nations, the love of art and religious devotion. But the monument at Niagara has something of its own, more in accord with our present thoughts and tendencies. It is a monument worthy of our scientific age, a true monument of enlightenment and of peace. It signifies the subjugation of natural forces to the service of man, the discontinuance of barbarous methods, the relieving of millions from want and suffering."

Fortunately, at least one of the historically important original buildings, part of the 1895 power plant still stands and is in safe hands, though in desperate need of protection and restoration, and the towering statue of Tesla at Goat Island, a 1976 gift of Yugoslavia to the United States by Croatian sculptor Frane Krsinic, likewise stands in serious need of care and maintenance.

Now that the most important historical research and documentation of the role that Tubman and others whom she no doubt inspired played here in the development and ultimate success of the Underground Railroad can finally be laid to rest, much still needs to be done to commemorate and celebrate her and their contributions to the international efforts to end slavery world-wide.

The fact that Tubman crossed into Canada from what is now the City of Niagara Falls with fugitives from that wretched institution, and that remnants from the original bridge are still standing, supporting the new bridge that replaced the original, is reason enough to treasure the place where she stepped into history.

Does not a statue recognizing Tubman’s and other’s journeys, erected in tribute to the Underground Railroad near that site, one on each side of the US/Canadian border make good sense?

Would not the restoration and development of a Tesla Center at the site of the sole remaining power station building, perhaps joined by the Frane Krsinic monument, or even better, another one make good sense?

And, yes, isn’t it time we give some well deserved credit to the daredevils, especially Annie Taylor, Blondin, and of course Mr. Wallenda for their daring which still brings world-wide attention to the city; why not a serious monument to them all?

And just as more and more people travel from coast to coast, from continent to continent to marvel at the beauty of the planet and the history of the remarkable people and their amazing feats inspire men women and their children to travel to experience the wonders of the pyramids, would not they likewise travel here, arriving from around the world , perhaps at our new international airport, or, someday, by high-speed rail from Canada and New York City to appreciate what else, besides the cascading waters, we have to offer here in beautiful Niagara Falls, New York?

Of course they would ... what are we waiting for?

Contact Bill at bill.bradberry@yahoo.com