Most people know about the Tesla car, but not about Tesla, the man. I was first introduced to Nikola Tesla, the inventor, back in 2006, while watching the Christopher Nolan film, The Prestige. Though the Tesla character played by David Bowie was only a small part in a film dominated by Christopher Bale and Hugh Jackman’s rival magicians, I was nonetheless entranced by this character. Jackman’s character goes to Colorado Springs, seeking Tesla’s help to best Bale.
The Prestige became one of my favorite movies and I watched it over and over in the years that followed. I moved to San Diego in 2008 to attend the University of California at San Diego. I studied Literature-Writing and in 2012, became part of the departmental honors program. My interest being in fiction, I decided to write a story for my thesis. I had always considered myself a novel writer and so, I needed a new project. Something I hoped would stay at a manageable short story length as I only about four month to get the research, writing, and perfecting all done for the defense.
There were a few items I considered researching for my story: among these were The Tunguska Event in Russia and Tesla’s research in Colorado Springs. Conspiracy theorists have long linked the Tunguska Event to Tesla and so it seemed, that I had my subject.
As I began my research, it became clear to me that Tesla was incredibly enigmatic. Few books have been written about him, few papers from Colorado in 1899 even mention him. We know roughly Tesla’s trajectory that he followed while he was in Colorado Springs. Arrived by train on May 17th, 1899, stayed at the Alta Vista Hotel while his lab was being constructed, moved to the lab, ran experiments on lightning for roughly eighteen months, then left. The lab was dismantled and the pieces sold to pay Tesla’s debts. Little record of anything else.
I finished my short story about Tesla in time to graduated from UCSD. By the time I went for my thesis defense, my committee and I had both realized that my story had grown quite beyond my original intentions. It had all the potential to become a novel.
Two more years passed before I did anything with my Tesla story. I was burnt out from the breakneck speed of the research and writing and was quite burnt out with my story. I switched to writing another book in the intervening years. Until finally, it was time to return to Tesla.
I finished the first draft and during that time, it was suggested to me that I go to Colorado Springs and look at it for myself. I agreed that I needed to go, that my descriptions were lacking a certain authenticity. Though I rarely traveled back to Colorado these days. And when I did, most of my time was filled was family and friend visits.
Finally, an opportunity presented itself on December 22nd, 2014, while I was home visiting my parents. I packed my camera and made a list of all the sites I wanted to visit, some directly part of the book, others more serving as influence.
Here is the collection of photographs I took. I hope you enjoy this mini-tour of Colorado Springs, circa 1899!
On the way in to Colorado Springs
The old train station in Colorado Springs, since fallen into disuse. Tesla arrived here on May 17th, 1899.
An old steam engine on display across the street from the train station, in Antlers Park.
The site where the Alta Vista Hotel once stood. Tesla stayed there while his lab was being built. He stayed in room 207 or 222, depending upon whom you ask. As the story goes, he selected his room because the number was divisible by 3, a prime number.
St Mary’s Cathedral, dedicated in 1898. Renovations were done over the years, but the original structure still stands, behind where the Alta Vista Hotel was. No evidence that Tesla ever went here, but it was close to his hotel and more importantly, shows the architectural styles of the time.
Beautiful old houses near downtown Colorado Springs. No ages on them except for the last one, which was built at the turn of the century.
Colorado Springs Day Nursery, established 1897 and still functioning today
Lowell Elementary School, operating at the turn of the century and still serving as a school today.
Colorado Springs School for the Deaf and Blind, operating since 1874. I don’t think any of these building are original to Tesla’s time in 1899. The main, red brick building was rebuilt in the early twentieth century. What we know about the location of Tesla’s lab is in relation to this school. It was a mile beyond the site of the deaf and blind school.
Google dropped their pin for Tesla’s lab location right where this house is. As it was a fairly large structure, we can assume that it took up the majority, if not more, of this block of homes on Kiowa and Foote. Tesla stayed in Colorado Springs for just eighteen months. The lab was later dismantled and sold off to pay his debts.
There’s a marker dedicated to Tesla across the street from where the lab was, in this park. This park is actually dedicated to firefights who have lost their lives in service to others. It is a little bit ironic as Tesla’s experiments at his lab once started a grass fire.
The majestic Pike’s Peak.
1) Colorado Springs Depot 2) Location of the old houses 3) Lowell Elementary School 4) Colorado School for the Deaf and Blind 5) Approximate location of Tesla’s lab 6) St. Mary’s Cathedral 7) Additional Churches Photographed (see Facebook) 8) Approximate location of the Alta Vista Hotel 9) Older buildings in the vicinity of downtown
For more photos from my trip, please visit my author Facebook page at: https://www.facebook.com/shannonfoxauthor