Give the Tesla Statue to the City of Niagara Falls
: By James Hufnagel
A characteristic of many great cities worldwide is the presence of a signature statue. Occupying a prominent place in a park, city square or along a well-traveled boulevard, such tributes in bronze or stone can become symbols by which the entire rest of the world may come to know a place, its people, their history and their cultural heritage.
It's hard to imagine the Statue of Liberty anywhere except standing guard over New York harbor. Atop his famous perch at Trafalgar Square, Admiral Horatio Nelson surveils London and empire. Fanciful and a delight to generations of visitors, the Little Mermaid of Copenhagen, Denmark is an amazing tourist magnet for the city. Closer to home, casual travelers passing through the tiny central New York village of Truxton (pop. 1133) encounter an unlikely monument to legendary baseball manager and native son John J. McGraw adorning the village's single traffic intersection.
Similarly honored is an individual who has had an enormous impact on human progress, profoundly shaping the world in which we live. You've heard of him, and you may even know a few things about the man and his contributions. His name was Nikola Tesla. He's the genius who invented the electric motor over a century ago. There is now a very popular electric car named Tesla manufactured by a company of the same name. Tesla built the first commercial electric power plant, and the first means to transmit the AC current it generated, right here on Buffalo Avenue in the city of Niagara Falls, NY. So it's only fitting that there be a statue of Nikola Tesla commemorating the man and his amazing accomplishments. And there is.
Unfortunately, however, the statue isn't located anywhere near the Buffalo Avenue site where most of the amazing history he made took place. It isn't even located in the city of Niagara Falls. A large statue depicting Tesla in an insulating rubber apron scrutinizing the blueprints to his first-ever hydroelectric generating station, and a gift to the United States from the People of Yugoslavia, Tesla's homeland, on the occasion of our 1976 bicentennial, inexplicably is located amid the parking lots, fast food stands, ticket booths and souvenir shops of Niagara Falls State Park.
How did it end up there? Nobody seems to know, except that there is a plaque on Tesla's statue listing the members of "the working group through whose efforts this statue was erected and dedicated" as the "Niagara Frontier State Park & Recreation Commission Staff" among other corporate and philanthropic sponsors. I asked Niagara Falls historian Paul Gromosiak to explain the mystery of the statue ending up in the park instead of the city. His response: "That's a good question!"
In a 2011 letter to the Niagara Gazette, Gromosiak made a case for relocating the Tesla statue from the State Park to the city of Niagara Falls. "The portal and statue do not belong on Goat Island. Goat Island is part of a natural reserve, a place where only natural things should be allowed" stated Gromosiak, who has authored dozens of books on Niagara Falls and local history. "(The city of) Niagara Falls is where it all began," he added, "This would give tourists a good reason to stay longer every day of the year."
In fact, the Olmsted plan for what was then called the Niagara Reservation was also clear about such matters. Now, it's understood that many readers' eyes tend to glaze over on mention of Frederick Law Olmsted and what many consider his "tree-hugger" plan for the park, but the fact remains that if the Olmsted plan, which called for activities such as food vending and souvenir sales to take place in the city rather the park, was implemented, the economic impact on downtown Niagara Falls would be considerable.
"Having regard to the enjoyment by visitors of natural scenery, and considering that the means of making this enjoyment available to large numbers of them will unavoidably lessen (its) extent and value," wrote Olmsted, "nothing of an artificial character should be allowed a place on the property."
Then he spells it out: "Suppose, for instance, that a costly object of art like that of the Statue of Liberty, should be tendered to the State on condition that it should be set up on Goat Island, (we must refuse it) as surely as we would an offer to stock the Island with poison ivy or with wolves or bear."
Recently it was announced by New York State Parks that the Tesla statue is to be moved from its present location to a site overlooking the American Falls, as part of the Niagara Falls "Landscape Improvements" plan. Olmsted had something to say about such "landscape improvements" over 130 years ago: "so commonly have the minds of intelligent men been impressed by the fact that the result of what are called works of improvement is generally the injury of natural scenery, and more so where they are called works of landscape improvement..."
Ironically, Tesla's inventions, while benefiting mankind beyond description, diminish the spectacle of the Falls his statue is positioned to compliment. He created a hydropower industry that, to the present day, draws millions of gallons of water from the upper river above the cataracts, detracting from the spectacle, making the juxtaposition of statue and falls particularly incongruous.
There is a much better home for Tesla's statue. Imagine it in the middle of the traffic circle at 1st Street and Rainbow Blvd. across from the historic Niagara Hotel. A dignified and highly visible location. You may have a different location in mind that would be more suitable. Visit the new Facebook group, "Give Tesla's statue to the city of Niagara Falls" and leave a suggestion.
|Niagara Falls Reporter - Publisher Frank Parlato Jr.||www.niagarafallsreporter.com||
Mar 04, 2014