On Beinn Bhreagh, Alexander Graham Bell lived the vision of enlightened wealth, at a time when the physical and scientific horizons seemed limitless. His famous line, "Come here, Watson," the first spoken over a telephone, lay behind him, as did the patent battles. He was free to invent at will, and to entertain in the style of Newport, R.I., farther south, where vast "cottages" received waves of fashionable guests every summer. Bell's visitors were mostly academicians and men with strange notions of speed, and flying. They argued over meals in the east wing and conducted impromptu experiments.
According to the family, two of Bell's distinguished guests once got into an argument over dinner about the ability of cats to land on their feet. Bell reportedly said, "Let's find out," and had the servants gather up all cats from the house and barns. Cushions were spread on the lawn 10 feet below the terrace, and the cats were dropped from various positions to test the theory. They did land on their feet; the disputants returned to the table to argue over why they landed on their feet.
Bell helped design the Silver Dart, the plane that made the first powered flight in the British Empire from Baddeck Bay. He designed a giant "hydrodrome," a 3 1/2-ton handcrafted wooden cigar on hydrofoils, mounted with gasoline engines, that reached 70 mph in 1919 across the waters of Baddeck. He had a tetrahedral tower erected on the mountain, using the four-sided solid triangular construction later made famous by Buckminster Fuller.
One Bell project was the development of a strain of sheep that always produced twins. But the ewes would nurse only one lamb. Bell had a special wooden nursing station constructed to solve the problem, to enable both twins to nurse simultaneously, but that project was not a success.
Bell liked to stretch out in the Tower Room of his mansion on the Point in the late afternoon, and have the newspaper read to him. One of Bell's grandchildren -- who still summers at Baddeck -- says Bell "had a passion for accuracy. At family dinners he would jot down subjects to be discussed. During the discussions he would say, 'Cite your authority!' That would send us all scrambling for the reference books."
Bell did not like derogatory remarks or anything based on hearsay. He favored eyewitness accounts in the newspaper articles he read -- all sentiments that eventually found their way into the National Geographic.
Most of Bell's scientific artifacts are on display in the museum in Baddeck. The Smithsonian Institution in Washington owns some artifacts, but Bell's family thought they should have been given more prominent display and so donated the bulk of the collection to the Alexander Graham Bell National Historic Park. There in an airy building of wood and glass are displayed kites and hydrofoils, including the "hydrodrome" sawed in half, blown-up photographs of Bells and Grosvenors at play, and an array of inventions that today are inspected by an unbroken line of tourists.
Among Bell's other inventions were a surgical probe, a forerunner of the X-ray, and a "vacuum jacket," using principles of the present-day iron lung. The realm of his interest, says a family member, "was infinite."
A Geographic editor in the early years of the century sardonically asked a colleague, "Bell invented the wheel, didn't he?"