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Electrical Building for the 1893 Columbian Exposition or the Chicago worlds fair

It is 1888 and the engaging book, The Last Days of Night by Graham Moore opens with a vision of a workman installing electric lights on Broadway in New York catching on fire and dying by electrocution. So begins this historical fiction that covers the war between Edison and Westinghouse over DC and AC currents and who would ultimately control the future of electricity. Soon to be a movie, this fascinating story cumulates with two closing events, the Chicago world’s fair when people really experienced the power of electric lights for the first time in their true blazing glory and the end of the long battle over control with the formation of General Electric in 1896.

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The characters, from top Left to bottom right, Lawyer Paul Cravath, Nicola Tesla, opera singer Agnes Huntington, Westinghouse, Edison and J.P. Morgan

These characters based on historical figures gripped me, and all through the book I thought of all the ways they have entered into popular culture and the many subliminal images I held surrounding them. Not wanting to break this spell, I waited until I was done with the book to research pictures and history of the real people. My curiosity also extended to the places these characters lived and worked.

The first character we encounter is Paul Cravath and his lady friend the opera singer Agnes Huntington. Cravath ended up settling in Long Island, having 4 houses in total in the area–two of which burned. His fourth, and final, house was Still House designed by Bradley Delehanty in 1920.

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Still house

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In the novel, Cravath and Agnes were the friends and defenders of the eccentric and brilliant Nicolas Tesla. One of Tesla’s labs comes with quite a story, the Transmission tower at Tesla’s Science center at Wardenclyffe. He convinced his famous architect friend Stanford White to design the tower which ended up being his final project before he was shot to death in 1906 on the roof of the famed Madison Square Garden, a building he designed with McKim, Mead and White. His story was immortalized in two films, The Girl in the Red Velvet Swing, 1955 with Ray Milland and Ragtime in 1981 with Norman Mailer.

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Sanford White designed this lab for Tesla, his last project

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Stanford White designed the original Madison Square Garden in 1890

The battling parties in the story, Edison and Westinghouse had not only homes, but places to gather with inventors and engineers. Thomas Edison’s house Glenmont Estate in West Orange, NJ is now a park and contains restored houses and grounds. 

Edison's Glenmont Estate, just a short distance from his lab, has been preserved and can be toured, Edison National Historical Park, West Orange, NJ, Aug. 28, 2015(Dispatch photo by Steve Stephens)

Main house of Edison’s Glenmont Estate (Dispatch photo by Steve Stephens)

Edison's desk is preserved just as it was worked in his office at what is now Edison National Historical Park, West Orange, NJ, Aug. 28, 2015(Dispatch photo by Steve Stephens)

Edison’s desk preserved in his office(Dispatch photo by Steve Stephens)

Visitors can see Edison's vast library at Edison National Historical Park, West Orange, NJ, Aug. 28, 2015(Dispatch photo by Steve Stephens)

Edison’s library at Edison National Historical Park, West Orange, NJ (Dispatch photo by Steve Stephens)

Edison also was an investor and promoter of concrete building and started the Edison Portland Cement Company, which he ended up struggling to make successful for many years. One major commission before he folded his cement company was original Yankee Stadium just a few years before the great depression.

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Thomas Edision with his concrete house model

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Original Yankee stadium in the 20’s

Edison also keep a winter estate right next to Henry Ford in Fort Myers, Florida. Now preserved as a museum and gardens it is a popular tourist destination.

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Edison and Ford winter main houses at the estates

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Edison’s guest house

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A reproduction of the lab in Florida

Nearby in Pittsburg, Westinghouse lived at his property Solitude that now is a 10 acre public park named simply Westinghouse Park. Westinghouse did a lot of work with his engineers at this property–including with Tesla and scientist William Thomson. In addition to the house he had a carriage house, laboratory, and natural gas derrick named “Old No. 1”.

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The now demolished house of George Westinghouse and his family

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“Old No. 1” Gas derrick

A wonder not only of nature but also of electricity and architecture is the Niagara Hydroelectric Power project created by Westinghouse and Tesla. The only remaining building is the Adams Power Plant Transformer House. Constructed in 1895, this building is a National Historic Landmark.

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Exterior Edward Dean Adams power station

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Edward Dean Adams power station at Niagara Falls

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Workers near a Westinghouse-Tesla generator, the Edward Dean Adams power station

In our lit up world, it is fantastic to think of the world of darkness that existed before electric lights illuminated our modern nights. The story in The Last Days of Night helps you inhabit this transitional world at the side of these historical characters, imagining their humanity through the many struggles it took to bring electric light into our homes and cities.

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