According to Joseph Kinney, the chief engineer and unofficial archivist of the New Yorker Hotel (an ancillary enterprise not of this magazine but of the Reverend Sun Myung Moon’s Unification Church), three types of inquisitive visitors regularly make pilgrimages there: (1) electrical engineers and technology enthusiasts; (2) people interested in U.F.O.s, anti-gravity airships, death-ray weapons, time travel, and telepathic pigeons; (3) Serbs and Croats. (A guest last year, Bozidar Djelic, the deputy prime minister of Serbia, inscribed for Kinney a copy of his book “Serbia: Things Will Get Better.”)
What these callers have in common is a wish to pay homage to Nikola Tesla, the tragically underappreciated Croatian-born ethnic-Serb immigrant visionary who lived at the hotel, at Thirty-fourth Street and Eighth Avenue, for ten years and, in 1943, died there, at the age of eighty-six. Despite having conceived—but, inconveniently, not necessarily having perfected patents for—dozens of revolutionary devices, Tesla during his lifetime failed to receive proper credit, or royalties, for theoretical work that made possible wireless power transmission and X-rays. It’s generally agreed that Tesla was an earlier inventor of radio than Guglielmo Marconi, who won the patent and a Nobel Prize. At the time of his death, Tesla was nearly destitute, having been bamboozled by, among others, Thomas Edison. He was undone as well by his own impracticality, deficient business acumen, and a predilection toward delusion.
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