Campaign Begins to Raise $500,000 For a Statue of Einstein in Princeton.
That’s what the headline said in the June 12 edition of the Town Topics newspaper in Princeton and instead of raising even one dollar from me it instead raised my blood pressure — a statue of Einstein in Princeton?
I know a little about Einstein — very little — but what little I know tells me that a statue would be the last thing needed to honor the renowned scientist who lived in Princeton for the last 22 years of his remarkable life. While the great scientist’s woolly hair and expressive face captured the attention of the world, the most fascinating part of the man was the working of his great mind — in obvious and not so obvious ways.
A lot of that brilliance comes through in his letters. There is the famous exchange with President Roosevelt in 1939, when Einstein laid out the facts that predicted the eventual creation of atomic bombs. "Certain aspects of the situation which has arisen seem to call for watchfulness and, if necessary, quick action on the part of the Administration. I believe therefore it is my duty to bring to your attention the following facts and recommendations."
Roosevelt replied: "I have convened a Board consisting of the head of the Bureau of Standards and a chosen representative of the Army and Navy to thoroughly investigate the possibilities of your suggestion . . ."
But not all Einstein’s brilliance was directed to the rich and famous and powerful. He was a fountain of ideas, and a simple letter requesting some information was often all that was needed to drink from it. In 1951 a child from New York asked him about the age of the earth and its life expectancy. Einstein wrote a letter:
"There has been an earth since a little more than a billion years. As for the question of the end of it I advise Wait and see!"
Denis Brian’s 1996 biography, "Einstein: A Life," documents many instances of Einstein’s generosity with his Princeton neighbors. In 1935 a 15-year-old high school student responded to a challenge issued by his journalism teacher at Princeton High School: Any student who got an interview with Einstein would get an A in the course. The student, Henry Rosso (who later would run Rosso’s Cafe on Spring Street), found out the route Einstein took from his home to office. At first Einstein declined, but Rosso convinced him to do the interview, arguing that no real reporters would read the student paper (an argument disproved by subsequent events).
Einstein relented and agreed, but Rosso was so intent on getting the interview that he had failed to prepare any questions. Einstein patiently suggested some of his own and helped the high school student get his scoop.
On another occasion Einstein got a letter from a sixth grade Sunday School student. Do scientists pray, the student asked. Einstein wrote a four-paragraph letter in reply, noting first that scientists believe that everything is determined by the laws of nature and that therefore "a research scientist will hardly be inclined to believe that events could be influenced by a prayer."
"But on the other hand," Einstein continued, "Everyone who is seriously involved in the pursuit of science becomes convinced that a spirit is manifest in the laws of the Universe — a spirit vastly superior to that of man. The pursuit of science leads to a religious feeling of a special sort."
Memories of Einstein abound in Princeton. But the closest thing to an Einstein learning center is tucked in the back corner of a most unlikely location: Landau’s clothing store at 102 Nassau Street. Beginning with a display at the time of the movie, "IQ," Robert Landau has assembled reproductions of letters, photographs, news clippings, Einstein’s will, books, and even the compass Einstein used when he went sailing with Gillett Griffin, a professor and Einstein friend who loaned many items for his display.
So before I go off on a rant about a statue of Einstein I visit Landau, who is listed as one of the organizers of the memorial fund. "The statue is just the beginning," Landau says. The clothier notes that his Einstein collection was transported down the street to the Historical Society where it became one of the most popular exhibits. But the Historical Society doesn’t have the room to make it a permanent exhibit.
What about the new library being built in the center of town? That’s a possibility, Landau replies, and some people have even mentioned that the statue could go there, as well. Surely more Einstein material would be donated to a permanent home with a curator. Technology could make it an interactive display. Landau gestures toward the "Einstein corner" of his compact store — there is a spirit manifest there, vastly superior to anything that a sculptor can carve into stone or cast in bronze. "This is meant to go somewhere," he says. "And when it does we will feel fulfilled."