Newspaper and magazine articles related to Nikola Tesla

Nikola Tesla Articles

Newspaper and magazine articles related to Nikola Tesla

Nikola Tesla's Patron Saint

August 14th, 1991
Page number(s):

The scientific work of Nikola Tesla is studied today with as much interest as when he presented the results of that work some 90 years ago. In Colorado Springs at the turn of the century, Tesla achieved electrical effects which have not been duplicated to this day. Dr. James Corum of Battelle Columbus laboratories points out, for example, that the methodology Tesla employed to produce particle-beam energies was 40 years ahead of the developmental technology of the rest of the high energy physics community.

It is the fascinating realm of Tesla’s scientific inquiry that led this writer to begin a study of his work in the 1950s. In the course of attempting a thorough study, I met many who worked with Tesla or knew him personally. The glimpses that they gave me of him revealed a dedication to Serbian Orthodox traditions. With reverence, this aspect of Tesla’s life is presented on the occasion of his 135th anniversary.

Tesla led a compartmented personal life. One of his close personal friends remarked to me that, when Tesla died, about a dozen people - not well known to each other - came forward saying, “I was Tesla’s closest friend.” They all knew him in different personal interests, such as the Chief of Police of New York City who went to the movies with him once a month, or a world-famous poet that wrote popular articles about him in the thirties using a pen-name.

Muriel Arbus, one of Tesla’s secretaries in the twenties when he maintained offices at 8 West 40th Street, across from the New York Public library, provided the first confirmation of Tesla holding firmly to his religious heritage. Recalling from brief notes made at one of our meetings she said, “Tesla kept any mention of his church connections out of the newspapers and, particularly, away from the scientific community.” In retrospect, his actions can be understood because of the intensely polarized science-religion dichotomy that prevailed at that time. He politely disassociated himself from those contrary adversaries.

St. Nicholas - The Tesla Family “Slava”

Throughout his life, Nikola observed the Tesla family “slava” day - the day to glorify the family’s Patron Saint. In the correspondence from Tesla’s private secretary, George Scherff, one finds annual notes dated December 17th saying, for example, in 1926, “On this day of your Patron Saint, please accept my heartiest wishes for your happiness, prosperity, and continued good health.” Mr. Scherff thoughtfully sent these greetings in advance to arrive on or before December 19, the date for St. Nicholas on the Serbian Orthodox Calendar in the 1900s.

Tesla’s father was the Rev. Milutin Tesla, and of course the family environment in Lika, in what is now Yugoslavia, was of ecclesiastical devotion. His mother, nee Djouka Mandich, too came from a family whose sons, for generations, were in the clergy. The “slava” day was the most important day for a Serbian family and, of course, especially so in the Tesla household. The day is observed by welcoming relatives, friends, acquaintances, and even strangers to the hospitality offered by the family. Special dishes and cakes are prepared.

In the traditional celebration of “slava,” a family will prepare a “Slavski Kolac” (bread for the Patron Saint). This is blessed and broken during the rite by the priest or host (actually sliced with bottom part in the form of a cross, then broken in two halves). Elements in the family liturgy are completed by pouring wine along the cut of bread. The “koljivo” (boiled white wheat mixed with ground walnuts and sugar) is served in memory of deceased family members mentioned in prayers of the breaking-of-bread ceremony, and the “Slavska sveca” (candle for the Patron Saint) burns throughout the day.

Though the most popular non-biblical saint in all Christendom, St. Nicholas of Myra (an ancient city south of Asia Minor between Cyprus and Rhodes) is also the most mysterious in the sense that his appearance in the early part of the fourth century is obscure - real or apparition, all artifacts are interpretive. Charles W. Jones, in his work, Saint Nicholas of Myra, Bari, and Manhattan (1978), marvelously captures the mystique of St. Nicholas which has been cherished by cultures for fifteen hundred years. Pope Paul VI expunged his name from sainthood February 14, 1969, but has the spirit and power of St. Nicholas died? Certainly not! Removing a name from a list cannot possibly diminish the universal, enduring spirit of St. Nicholas.

Tesla’s Birth Date

From Tesla’s own words, he was born at midnight, between July 9th and 10th, 1856. In a letter written on the day of his Patron Saint in 1934, Tesla recalls a scene home in Lika: “It was a dismal night with rain falling in torrents. My brother, a youth of eighteen and intellectual giant, had died. My mother came to my room, took me in her arms and whispered, almost inaudibly, ‘Come and kiss Daniel.’ I pressed my mouth against the ice cold lips of my brother knowing only that something dreadful had happened. My mother put me again to bed and lingering a little said with tears streaming, ‘God gave me one at midnight and at midnight took away the other one.’”

Although the anniversaries of Tesla’s birth are observed on July 10, interestingly enough astrologers have come up with perplexing results when attempting to construct a horoscope for him based on this date. “It just doesn’t fit with what we know about him” said one. I thank internationally known astrologer Penny Thornton and Roger Coghill of Coghill Research Associates in England for clearing up the mystery.

At the time of Tesla’s birth, the Julian calendar was used by those in that region of Yugoslavia and especially by those following the Serbian Orthodox calendar. The papal bull on the Gregorian calendar appeared in February 1582. To bring the vernal equinox back to March 21, the day following the Feast of St. Francis (October 5) was to become October 15. The papal bull also promulgated that three out of every four centennial years should be common years. Thus, 1700, 1800, and 1900 were not leap years as they would have been in Julian calendar. As a result, the Julian and Gregorian calendars became separated by one additional day each century. Today, 12 days would have to be dropped out of the Julian calendar to convert anniversary dates in it to the Gregorian calendar.

In 1856, the year of Tesla’s birth, 11 days separated the Julian and Gregorian calendars. Thus, if church bells had tolled in Lika, July 10, 1856, on Tesla’s birth, and people in America using the Gregorian calendar somehow magically heard the bells, the date would have shown July 21. But Tesla’s true anniversary date on the Serbian Orthodox Calendar is July 10.

Consecrator of St. Sava Church, Gary, Indiana

Although in the throes of the thirties depression, the Serbs of Gary, Indiana, sought to build a church dedicated to St. Sava. Two church parishes existed in Gary. With goodwill and a common sacred objective, efforts to unify the parishes was undertaken in order that the funding could be achieved. At this same time, King Alexander of Serbia was assassinated, which tragedy seemed to forge a unifying spirit of the entire community; the king, in 1893, had awarded the Grand Office of the Order of St. Sava to Tesla. Through extraordinary efforts the funding was achieved, and the church was consecrated on Thanksgiving Day, November 24, 1938.

Among the guests were Konstantin Fotich, Yugoslav Ambassador to the United States, His Grace, Bishop Dr. Damaskin, the Very Revs. Zivojin Ristanovich, Andro Popovich and Dushan Shoukletovich, Priests of Russian, Greek, and Rumanian Churches, and representatives of the Serb National Federation, Tesla, Godfather of the church, was unable to attend, suffering from injuries received when hit by a taxicab. The Gary Post Tribune for November 25, 1938, reported that Tesla sent $500 and was represented by Mitchell Duchich, well-known Gary businessman and close friend. Although seemingly not a great amount of money today, it was then a tidy sum, especially for Tesla, then 82, who was certainly not prospering from any financial wave.

In the 1960s, I learned that Tesla had written an autobiography in which he describes his church work and had donated it to the St. Sava Church in Gary. I worked with Louis C. Christopher, Jr. (Luka Hristiforovic) and Martin Cornelius, in Gary, in an attempt to uncover this important document, but it could not be found. A thought, expressed by Mr. Christopher, was that it may have been written in Cyrillic and discarded by someone not recognizing what it was. A tragedy, if true. However, there still is a chance that the autobiography lies buried in some yet-to-be uncovered old file. Although Tesla kept copies of everything he wrote, and his entire intellectual inheritance was taken in 1952 to the Muzej Nikole Tesle in Belgrade, it is doubtful that such an autobiographical account would have survived excision by party-member curators working for years under the Tito regime.

Two years following the consecration of St. Sava Church in Gary, Tesla found himself in a financial pickle and asked Duchich for a loan. In acknowledgment, the following telegram was sent on November 21: “Forgive me, it wasn’t possible for me to recognize your generous help immediately. St. Nicholas and you are my best friends. To you and your family I wish the best satisfaction on the occasion of today’s holy day (Synaxis of Archangel Michael). Your grateful debtor, Nikola Tesla.”

A Eulogy

One of Tesla’s dear friends was Paul R. Radosavljevich whose two-volume work, Who Are the Slavs?, stands today as classic. The frontispiece of the first volume carries a photograph of Tesla in his laboratory with his signature in Serbian. Rado, as he was called by friends, put aside his clerical garb to become a foremost professor of pedagogy at New York University, later Professor Emeritus. Muriel Arbus remarked that he was a frequent visitor to Tesla’s offices at 8 West 40th Street, and he became Tesla’s personal secretary in later years. Those wanting to see Tesla during those years first had to go through Rado!

Tesla died on Serbian Christmas Eve, 1943, at the age of 86. Rado was moved to send the following telegram dated January 12 to the Yugoslav Government in Exile, in-care-of Dr. M. Stanoyevich:

“Being ill in bed, I cannot have the honor to see once again the holy face of our Dr. Nikola Tesla. His death is a great loss not only to Serbs, Yugoslavs, and Slavic people, but also to the whole world, especially our United States which he loved so dearly. He used to say, ‘We Serbs are proud to be citizens of the greatest and noblest country on earth, a country which realized unity amidst diversity, to use his own expression. He loved the heroic Karageorgevich’s Serbia and brave Montenegro which gave their last blood to free and unite the Serbs, Croats, and Slovenes from the yoke of Austro-Hungary. He admired Karageorgevich’s Jugoslavia as is testified by his recent meeting with the young King Peter II. He admired Draza Mihajlovich as a symbol of the old Serbian struggle for the Holy Cross and Golden Liberty. He loved heroic Russia as the mother of all Slavdom, Poland, and Czechoslovakia, and had nothing but pity for the fate of so-called independent, Hitler’s Croatia, Slovakia, and Bulgaria. He is a symbol of our modern culture and Civilization. - Dr. Paul R. Radosavljevich, Prof, at New York University.”


Downloads for this article are available to members.
Log in or join today to access all content.