Englewood’s own mad scientist conjured lightning on June 25, lighting the night before an awestruck crowd. Matt Crabtree, the president of the Englewood Historic Preservation Society, demonstrated …
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Englewood’s own mad scientist conjured lightning on June 25, lighting the night before an awestruck crowd.
Matt Crabtree, the president of the Englewood Historic Preservation Society, demonstrated his homebuilt Tesla coil on a patio beside the Brew on Broadway, carrying on the work of Nikola Tesla, the visionary electrical inventor who once sought to power the world from a laboratory in Colorado Springs.
Crabtree, an electrical engineer, spent eight months constructing a Tesla coil — its namesake’s most famous creation — which Tesla once theorized could be used to transmit electrical power around the world through the atmosphere and the earth itself.
The device, standing about five feet high, crackled to life as Crabtree cranked the dial higher and higher, firing 400,000 volts in purple arcs powerful enough to wirelessly light nearby fluorescent bulbs.
“Building a Tesla coil made me feel connected to Tesla himself,” Crabtree said. “There’s an element of experimentation — you don’t know what’s going to happen when you turn it on. What was Tesla thinking and feeling the first time he fired his up?”
Crabtree’s demonstration followed a talk on Tesla’s life and work. Tesla, born in 1856 in what is now Croatia, developed revolutionary methods of electricity generation and transmission, including polyphase alternating current — the method now used to power the world.
Tesla performed his most astonishing experiments in Colorado Springs in 1899, building a Tesla coil so powerful its bolts could be seen from many miles distant.
Fierce competition in the early days of electrification saw Tesla robbed of recognition, however, and he died in alone in obscurity in a New York hotel in 1943. Stories and legends have abounded in the years since his death that the mysterious inventor developed fantastical inventions that were quashed by jealous rivals or wary governments.
Crabtree said he’ll likely donate his device to the Englewood Historic Preservation Socierty, to be used in future demonstrations.
Tesla’s life has lessons for people today, Crabtree said.
“Tesla wasn’t held back by what people said he couldn’t do,” Crabtree said. “He dreamed big and was devoted to his cause. He was overlooked for so long, but today people are beginning to rediscover what an amazing man he was.”
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