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Available November 1, 2009
An excerpt from Cincinnatus
...continued (Page 5)

The tour ended at the two-story tower, but first they went to the ground-floor room—Leedskalnin’s workshop, filled with all sorts of tools, most of them laughably primitive. But Lewis couldn’t laugh, because they were all so cleverly fashioned, all so clearly designed with a specific purpose, that they were beyond ingenious, they were genius, period. The man was a gifted mechanic, at the least. An intuitive engineer, definitely, but he was more than that. Scattered among the tools were other pieces of equipment—a turbine, gleaned from a junkyard somewhere, judging by the rust; a fan belt assembly from a car engine; dozens of horseshoes (magnets, Lewis assumed, judging from the nails stuck to a few of them); springs large and small; coils of metal wire, thick and thin—which told Lewis that Leedskalnin had not just an engineer’s mentality, but an experimenter’s.

A flight of stone coral steps led up the outside of the tower. “We finish tour here,” Leedskalnin said, turning. “Where I live in.” It looked more like a medieval prison cell to Lewis. But then his eyes fastened on a small metal shelf (one of several built into the coral walls) at the far left corner of the room. On it sat a half dozen Ball Mason Jars, wrapped in copper wire that ran to a car battery and what looked like a telegraph key.

“That’s a radio,” he said, suddenly, speaking for the first time since Leedskalnin had joined him at the well.

Leedskalnin blinked, surprised at being interrupted.

“Yes,” he said. “I build myself.”

“A crystal set.” Lewis touched it gently. “Spark transmitter, galena crystal…”

Leedskalnin said, “You know radio?”

“Yes,” Lewis said. “I know radio.”

Radio had started the Crosley company’s fortunes. They’d moved on to broadcasting, from broadcasting to appliances, from appliances to cars, but radio was at the heart of it. How many hours had he and Powel spent together, trying to puzzle out its secrets, at his brother’s house, in the labs?

Leedskalnin stared at Lewis, an odd expression on his face.

“Crosley,” he said, pronouncing it ‘Crossley’ once more. “Radio,” he said, rolling the ‘r.’ Crosley Radio, this is you? You are that Crosley?”

“One of them,” Lewis admitted.

Leedskalnin smiled, a smile of genuine pleasure, the first one Lewis had seen from him all afternoon.

“Hah,” he said. “You have question for me—now I have questions for you, too.”



They talked about the history of Crosley Radio. Crosley Broadcasting. They talked about the technology and about the people and even about the politics. As they talked, Lewis realized the man was starved for conversation. When Lewis mentioned Powel, Leedskalnin’s face lit up.

“Ah. The famous Powel Crosley,” he said.

Lewis nodded. Powel was as well known as any industrialist in the country. Not just his name, but his face, had come to be associated with everything the company did—the Shelvador refrigerator, Crosley radios, WLW broadcasting, the Cincinnati Reds, and the soon-to-be Crosley Car.

But Lewis saw a side of his brother that no one else got to see. The family man. The loving husband.

“It’s because of Powel I’m here,” Lewis said. “He needs your help.”

“What could I do for your brother that he could not hire ten other men to do?”

“Not for him. For his wife. Her name is Gwendolyn. They’ve been married almost thirty years. Childhood sweethearts, you could say.” Leedskalnin’s expression changed, from puzzlement to something else, a flash of anger, another of sadness, of melancholy.

Man Builds Coral Castle for Lost Love

“She has tuberculosis,” Lewis said. “She’s very sick. The doctors won’t come right out and say it, but it’s clear she’s dying.”

Leedskalnin was silent a moment, perhaps making the connection between Powel’s wife and his own lost love. “I’m very sorry to hear this,” he said. “Sorry for your brother and his wife. It is a terrible disease.”

“You had it, as I understand. A terminal case, the papers said. The doctors told you to go home and get your affairs in order.”

“Correct.”

“You were supposed to die. But you didn’t. You lived. Cured yourself. A miracle cure, they said.”

Leedskalnin said nothing.

“So that’s why I’m here,” Lewis went on. “To find out how you did it.”

Leedskalnin remained silent. Lost in thought.

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