William H. Terbo, now 82 and a retired engineer living in Scotch Plains, N.J., has but a single memory of his great-uncle, Nikola Tesla, a largely over-looked but important scientist sometimes called The Father of the Electric Age. But the memory is enduring.
Terbo, then about 8-years-old, met his great uncle in the late 1930s, at the New Yorker Hotel, in Manhattan. Tesla was then in his late 70s, and being of Serbian birth, still observed certain Old World customs. One of them was kissing women, and men, even very young men, three times on both cheeks. Terbo got three kisses, blushed, and now, many decades later, says he would have preferred a handshake, but understood his great-uncle's custom.
“There should be a Tesla museum in this country,” said Terbo, who is Tesla’s last-surviving relative. “It’s not adequate just to have some (Tesla exhibits) in the Smithsonian” in Washington, D.C. Tesla’s laboratory in Shoreham, on Long Island’s East End, is a fit place for such a museum, Terbo said.
There is a movement currently on Long Island to raise money to purchase the land in Shoreham where Tesla did much of his work on electric transference. Tesla’s laboratory, called Wardenclyffe, is now owned by AGFA Group, a multi-national technology company headquartered in Belgium. AGFA, which also has offices in New Jersey, is looking for about $1.6 million for the property.
A newly-formed non-profit, The Telsa Science Center at Wardenclyffe, has so far raised about $1,265,000, said David Madigan, a board member of the effort to raise the funds.
Terbo is executive secretary of the Tesla Memorial Society, which sponsors academic conferences, scholarship awards and cultural activities in honor of Tesla.
Terbo recalls his great-uncle as “very tall and old,” but added that Tesla had a sense of humor, despite stories generally describing him as a stern and serious scientist. Terbo’s father, also Nikola, had a relationship with Tesla, even though Tesla was decades older.
“It’s extremely important” that Terbo is playing an active and supportive role in trying to establish the museum, Madigan said. “He’s (Terbo) been a tireless advocate for his great-uncle’s inventions. One of the greatest attributes is to have his counsel and advocacy.”
When Tesla died, in 1943 at age 86, some 5,000 people turned out for his funeral at St. John the Devine Church in Manhattan, said Terbo.
Bernstein is a representative for BluChip Marketing.