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This article was prepared for the April 13, 2005
issue of U.S. 1 Newspaper. All rights reserved.
Capsule History at Bainbridge House
introduced a new theory about time, and so our tour begins with
Einstein’s own timepiece, his grandfather clock. Einstein was,
arguably, at his most productive in his 20s and 30s, and he lived to
see the world accept the concepts he published in 1905 at age 26.
In addition to introducing the concept of "spacetime," he challenged
the wave theory of light, validated the kinetic-molecular theory of
heat, and proved the concept that would lead to E = MC2.
Though scorned as "Jewish science" by his own countrymen, and though
they flouted Newtonian physics, these concepts were taken seriously by
a British astronomer who, with photographs of the 1919 solar eclipse,
proved that gravity could indeed bend light. In 1922, at age 42, he
learned that he had been recognized with the 1921 Nobel Prize for
The New York Times described him on April 3, 1921, upon his arrival in
New York: "A man in a faded gray raincoat and flopping black felt hat
that nearly concealed the gray hair that straggled over his ears stood
on the boat deck of the steamship Rotterdam yesterday, timidly facing
a battery of cameramen. In one hand he clutched a shiny briar pipe and
with the other clung to a precious violin. He looked like an artist –
a musician. He was."
"But underneath his shaggy locks was a scientific mind whose
deductions have staggered the ablest intellects of Europe…" (April
3, 1921, quoted in The Einstein Almanac).
Einstein’s musical exploits are apocryphal in Princeton. He liked to
"play in," unannounced, with chamber music groups, unannounced. One of
the more titillating stories: that he sometimes practiced his violin,
nude, in his bedroom with the curtains open.
At Bainbridge House, the music stand helps us to recall Einstein’s
childhood. According to Alice Calaprice, an Einstein biographer who is
a Princeton resident, the young Einstein was a thoughtful dreamer who
frequently got his knuckles rapped for failing to respond quickly.
Though scorned for his inability to do simple calculations, he was
teaching himself calculus at the age of 12.
Music must have offered a respite from the harsh discipline at school.
He began taking violin lessons at age six. Though he quit taking the
lessons to study on his own, he also taught himself piano. In
Princeton at least one musician remembers his reputation for not
always being able to keep a steady beat. Perhaps because he was self
taught, and he did not have a teacher standing over him, requiring him
to play to a metronome’s beat, he acquired the habit of what is
charitably called an "individual sense of rhythm."
"Einstein was a huge lover of music but no great musician – he was the
first to admit that," says Maureen Smyth of the Historical Society of
Princeton. "As he grew older he spent more time playing the piano than
that sits next to the clock, Einstein’s favorite, evokes the story of
his middle years and the sadder story of his expulsion from Germany.
As the Hitler movement rose to power, Einstein – emboldened by his
celebrity and impassioned by his support of pacifism, antimilitarism,
and anti-Semitism – spoke out against the Nazi regime. By 1933 he
realized his days of living full time in Germany were over, and he
began looking for work in America. That year the Nazis confiscated his
house and bank accounts. Somehow friends managed to smuggle his papers
and his furniture out of Germany.
This chair represents Einstein’s life as a younger man, known for
being both a romantic dreamer and arrogant genius. It is part of the
94-item collection of Einstein’s furniture that was donated to the
Historical Society a couple of years ago. "Some of the pieces still
have the Berlin shipping tags on them," says Gail Stern, the HSP
director. Thanks to the acquisition of another property, she hopes to
expand the space at Bainbridge House and be able tap the collection
for rotating exhibits.
The pipe, from the collection of Gillett Griffin, recalls the old man
with the frowzy hair and fuzzy slippers caricatured by Walter Matthau
in the movie "IQ" who sailed on Carnegie Lake and helped school
children with their homework.
Anthropologist Ashley Montagu wrote about how Einstein looked in his
later years (as quoted by Calaprice): "He wore his usual jersey, baggy
pants, and slippers. What especially struck me as he approached the
doorway was that he seemed not to walk but to glide in a sort of
undeliberate dance. It was enchanting. And there he was, bright, sad,
eyes, cascading white hair, with a smile of greeting on his face, a
Historical Society of Princeton, Bainbridge House, 158 Nassau Street.
The museum is open and free to visitors, Tuesday to Sunday, noon to 4
p.m., and Einstein lore is featured in the walking tours on Sundays at
2 p.m. (609-921-6748).
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