Always dressed impeccably, Tesla nonetheless could be occasionally found standing in Bryant Park, arms outstretched, bird feed at his feet, and covered in pigeons. He was a sight to behold, and passersby chuckled at the idea of the great scientist enamored of what most would agree are not the cleanest or most appealing of birds (some would go so far as to call them “rats with wings”). But here he was…mingling with the feisty foul just steps from his scientific laboratory.
On other occasions Tesla would wander the streets of New York City, head down, gazing intently, on the alert for the injured pigeon who mistook the windowed glass of the slowly rising skyscrapers of New York for a passageway (or a possible mate, one might imagine). Rushing to any bird he observed, Tesla gently lifted his new-found charge and brought it back to his hotel room to nurse it back to health.
Such an odd paradox was this man. Desperately germophobic to the point of avoiding human contact, here he is covered in bird feathers…and worse. And when he took ill and couldn’t tend to his rounds he would order his assistants to go out looking in his stead. Giving them careful instructions on where to look and how to handle the birds, they were to bring them back and care for them if Tesla could not.
One particular white pigeon became a personal friend when Tesla was most in need of friendship. One day the pigeon showed up on his windowsill looking, to Tesla at least, forlorn. Tesla knew the pigeon had come to tell him it was dying.
In the end, both the pigeon and Tesla died alone.
For an interesting rendition of “Tesla’s Pigeon” performed by Jessica Lennick and Daniel Paul Lawson, check out this YouTube clip.
David J. Kent is the author of Tesla: The Wizard of Electricity and Edison: The Inventor of the Modern World (both Fall River Press). He has also written two e-books: Nikola Tesla: Renewable Energy Ahead of Its Time and Abraham Lincoln and Nikola Tesla: Connected by Fate. His next book, Lincoln: The Man Who Saved America, is scheduled for release in summer 2017.