Searching for Einstein

112 Mercer Street

Gillett Griffin

Johanna Fantova

Eric S. Maskin

Institute for Advanced Study

Robert Berks’ Sculpture

Lunch Options

Good Questions

Books on Einstein

Corrections or additions?

This article by Barbara Fox was prepared for the April 13, 2005

issue of U.S. 1 Newspaper. All rights reserved.

The Miracle Year: an Einstein Tour of Princeton

Einstein has always been Princeton’s most sought-after celebrity.

Visitors from Europe who are visibly unimpressed by "old" buildings

like Nassau Hall, and those from other continents who turn a deaf ear

to stories of the town’s role in the Revolutionary War – they all know

about Albert Einstein and are eager to view any signs of the great

man’s legacy.

Until recently those opportunities were very limited indeed. One could

stand in front 112 Mercer Street where Einstein lived, drive by the

Institute for Advanced Study where Einstein worked, or poke around in

the back of a retail store on Nassau Street to find an ad hoc exhibit

of Einstein artifacts.

But after years of wrangling and negotiations, a bust of Einstein is

scheduled to be installed on Monday, April 18, at 10 a.m., at the

newly named "EMC Square," on Borough Hall Walk at Bayard Lane and

Stockton Street. Fifty years after the date of his death, it will be

an official memorial to the genius who spent the last two decades of

his life living and working in Princeton.

In a neat coincidence, 2005 is also the 100th anniversary for the

publication of four papers that are acknowledged to be Einstein’s

greatest work. The Princeton Regional Chamber of Commerce, the

Historical Society of Princeton, and the Institute for Advanced Study

have collaborated in this centennial celebration of Einstein’s

"Miracle Year" (, and the Princeton Public

Library and the Princeton University Store have also scheduled


In a year when virtually every national magazine has examined some

aspect of Einstein’s legacy, here is a guide to the people, places,

and things that have stories to tell about this great man. Stories

about Einstein, some apocryphal, some validated, are plentiful in this


One of his biographers, Alice Calaprice, says that, in the end, what

surprised her most about her research on Einstein was that he was "an

ordinary man, like the rest of us."

Einstein commented about Princeton on at least 10 occasions ("The New

Quotable Einstein," edited by Calaprice). When he came through on a

lecture tour in 1921, he wrote, "I found Princeton lovely; an as yet

unsmoked pipe, so fresh, so young." In 1933, just after he took a post

at the Institute for Advanced Study, he wrote to a royal friend, Queen

Elisabeth of Belgium, "Princeton is a wondrous little spot, a quaint

and ceremonious village of puny demigods on stilts. Yet, by ignoring

certain social conventions, I have been able to create for myself an

atmosphere conducive to study and free from distractions. Here, the

people who compose what is called ‘society’ enjoy even less freedom

than their counterparts in Europe."

In 1934 he wrote to a European friend, "If there were no newspapers

here, I would live as on a newly discovered planet. People here regard

Europe as something between a theater and a zoological garden."

In 1936 when Einstein’s office was still located at Fine Hall, he

groused about his lack of decision making power: "My fame begins

outside of Princeton. My word counts for little in Fine Hall." (From

1933 to 1939, when the Institute for Advanced Study opened Fuld Hall,

Princeton University hosted the Institute scholars. The old Fine Hall

is now Jones Hall, current home of the East Asian Studies department.)

But in 1937 Einstein praised the university in a letter to President

Harold Dodds, who had evidently written a condolence letter on the

death of Einstein’s second wife, Else. These are the words on this

issue’s cover: "In the face of all the heavy burdens I have borne in

recent years, I feel doubly thankful that here has fallen on my lot in

Princeton University a place for work and a scientific atmosphere

which could not be better or more harmonious."

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Searching for Einstein

Our Einstein tour starts at the Historical Society of Princeton’s

Bainbridge House at 158 Nassau Street, across from the university.

Four items on display – Einstein’s clock, music stand, favorite chair,

and pipe – help clarify certain aspects of his life.


After stopping by the Bainbridge House gift shop, stocked with

everything from Einstein T-shirts to Einstein marionettes, walk one

block to Landau’s store at 102 Nassau Street. Robert and Henry Landau

have long decried the absence of an Einstein shrine, and in its

absence, in the back of his store, they set up a defacto museum chock

full of miscellaneous artifacts and images


Walk or drive down Nassau Street to Mercer Street and turn left for

Einstein’s house, 112 Mercer Street. It is a private residence, and

visitors are not allowed. But from the sidewalk we can easily see the

house and contemplate the most visible memento of Einstein’s years in


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112 Mercer Street

The Mercer Street house was a practical choice for its location and

its size. Einstein didn’t drive, and from Mercer Street he could walk

to his office and walk to town. And it was modest, almost nondescript.

"It demonstrates the way he slipped into Princeton life. It is not a

shack, but it is certainly not the grand houses that people have

constructed in their minds for the smartest man in the world," says

Maureen Smyth, assistant director/curator at the Historical Society of


The unpretentious house helped him maintain his privacy, and so did

the townspeople. "Princeton was a good place for him to land," says

Smyth. Eager visitors looking for Einstein’s house were sometimes

given vague answers. "People attempted to shield him and his household

members from intruders."

"He really kept to his work. He was no hermit, but most of the people

he interacted with were from the Institute, with whom he discussed

science, literature, music, and philosophy. He also gravitated to

people who had had to escape Nazi persecution, whether they were

Jewish, or intellectuals, or vocal about their opposition to the Nazi

party," says Smyth. "Speaking in German was easiest for him; he did

not exhibit a high level of comfort with English."

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Gillett Griffin

As for the former contents of the house, we turn to Gillett Griffin,

an art collector and librarian who was a frequent visitor to the

household several years before Einstein died in 1955. Griffin

describes the furnishings as "sort of frumpy middle class European

furniture, mostly late 19th century, no real antiques." The best piece

of art in the house, he said, was a St. Francis statue sculpted by

Einstein’s stepdaughter Margot. He also remembers a linocut of Gandhi,

whom Einstein admired, and some Japanese prints "but not really good

Japanese prints."

Einstein, Griffin explains, "wasn’t a bit visually interested in much

of anything. His mind was on the planets of the universe, stars, or

ice crystals, whatever. I don’t think he really cared about art per


Griffin worked as librarian at Princeton University and as did

Einstein’s good friend, Johanna Fantova, so he was invited over to

dinner one evening. At that time, in the early 1950s, Einstein seldom

went out of the house.

Griffin is an amiable man, known for being easy to get along with and

able to tell entertaining stories. "I have a sense of humor," explains

Griffin. "And he was not being threatened. He was not being used."

Griffin was invited back but did not gossip about his experiences, not

even keeping a diary, because he feared that would be an invasion of

the family’s privacy.

He became a regular in the household.

That first night, Griffin says, he kept quiet. "What do you say to the

greatest man of the century if not the millennium? The answer is

nothing. i have large ears so i decided to listen."

"One of the things that worked the first time I was there is that we

enjoyed the same composers. At that time there were few performances

of Vivaldi, and he was surprised that I knew about Vivaldi."

Also on that first evening, he offered to help the three women dry the

dishes. Einstein was on his way upstairs and chided him, "In Europe,

men don’t do the dishes." Griffin helped anyway, which apparently

sealed his favor with the ladies.

He functioned as a defacto court jester – ready with a quip or a pun,

affable and entertaining, but close-mouthed to outsiders. But now he

can talk:

On etiquette. "A story that he and Margot told is that, when they were

invited to a stuffy affair, they sat next to an archbishop or some

kind of high prelate. On each plate was an orchid. The nearsighted

prelate began eating his orchids, thinking that was what they did in

this country. Both Einsteins began eating their orchids to make him

feel at ease."

On a gift gone wrong: "When he had his 75th birthday the Institute

wanted to show its respect and, knowing full well that he liked live

music, gave him a hifi set (the top of the line electronics of that

era). So I decided to give him a record, Bach Cantata # 70. But the

next time I saw him he looked very cool and removed. ‘Why did you give

this to me?’ he asked." Griffin says he did not realize the German

libretto was strongly evangelical. "He thought I was trying to convert

him to Christianity."

On Einstein’s last birthday, when Helen Dukas brought in "wheelbarrow

loads" of birthday cards. Two were memorable. "One lady in the midwest

said pretty soon he would be hearing themes in hell. Another, from a

Catholic priest that he had known in Rome, hoped that he didn’t mind

that he was saying prayers to the Virgin Mary, that after all she was

a nice Jewish girl. Dukas never saved any of those letters."

A graduate of the Yale School of Fine Arts, Class of 1951, Griffin

began to be interested in "old things" at age 14. "And now I am one,"

he jests.

His grandparents had a ladies shoe factory in New England, and his

father retired when the shoe business was wiped out. He grew up in

Greenwich, Connecticut, and flouted the family’s expectations that he

would go into business. For most of his life, he worked at Firestone

Library, where the salaries were notoriously low, and he had no help

from his parents, though he did inherit some money when they died in


Throughout, he has been an avid and remarkably successful collector.

Over a 50-year period Griffin acquired one of the greatest collections

in the world of Mesoamerican and Andean treasures, which he is

donating to the Princeton University Art Museum, with no strings

attached. Of the Einstein artifacts, most are going to the Historical

Society of Princeton except for the Johanna Fantova collection, which

has been given to Firestone Library.

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Johanna Fantova

Fantova was Griffin’s fellow employee at the library. "After Einstein

died Johanna Fantova came to me. He talked to her every night on the

telephone and read Goethe or discussed what he was thinking. He wrote

her little notes or poems." Griffin believes that Einstein wrote these

things as an insurance policy for her. "He gave her the only copy of

the unified field theory outside Israel. She asked if I would buy all

those little notes to her. We got the two finest manuscript dealers,

and they came up with similar evaluations, and I paid her the maximum

amount, with the understanding that I would eventually give them to

the University library, but that they could not be looked at for 30

years after her death. The unified field theory cost $8,000 which I

couldn’t afford at that time."

To read these notes "is fascinating, because you are contacting the

mind of a very great man in his last days. Boswell was removed from

Johnson, and Pepys was making observations, but here you are talking

to a great man and sharing everyday thoughts."

Griffin wrote the liner notes for the Columbia Records recording of

the concert given in memory of Einstein on December 17, 1955. Nicholas

Harsanyi conducted an ensemble then known as the Princeton Symphony,

and Robert Casadeseus was the soloist in a program that included the

Bach Cantata # 106, the Coronation Concerto of Mozart, and the Corelli

Christmas concerto.

The Art Museum of Princeton University will honor Griffin on Saturday,

May 14, with a "Gillett Griffin day." The lecturers will include

Michael Coe, former head of anthropology department at Yale, and

Elizabeth Benson of Dumbarton Oaks, Harvard’s preColumbian art,

located in Washington, D.C.

Back to the tour: The similar looking house to the left Einstein’s

house was the one used for filming IQ.

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Eric S. Maskin

Einstein’s house is now owned and occupied by Eric S. Maskin, who

holds the Albert O. Hirschman chair in the School for Social Sciences

at the Institute for Advanced Study. A mathematician from Harvard,

Class of 1972, with a Harvard PhD, he studies economic theory,

including game theory, the economics of incentives, and social choice

theory. Maskin is frequently quoted on electoral rules and designing


Notice the gate and the sign "Private Residence," made necessary by

aggressive visitors who want their pictures taken on the porch.

Nevertheless, last Halloween the Maskin family welcomed trick-or-

treaters with a lineup of jack o’lanterns proclaiming "E = MC square."

To follow the path that Einstein walked from his home to work at the

Institute for Advanced Study, go south on Mercer Street, take the

first left on Springdale, turn right on Battle Road, and left on Olden

Lane, which dead-ends into what is now Einstein Drive.

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Institute for Advanced Study

The Institute was founded in 1930 with an endowment from Louis

Bamberger (who made his money in department stores) and his sister,

Caroline Fuld. When Einstein began looking around for a job in

America, he met the Institute’s director, Abraham Flexner. At that

point the Institute had no campus; the initial office would be at 20

Nassau Street.

In May, 1933, after Einstein had accepted the appointment at the

Institute but before he had left England, Flexner wrote to Einstein

about the Institute’s progress: "You will see that we are doing what

we started out to do, getting together a group of distinguished

persons, placing them under ideal conditions for their own work and

associating with them in an informal way younger men who from time to

time may enjoy advice and aid."

In this 75th anniversary year, the director, Peter Goddard, notes with

pride that unlike many academic institutions, the Institute’s ethos

and culture have not changed in the last 30 years.

The researcher who occupies Einstein’s former office declines to be

named nor to have the office’s location noted, and the two busts of

Einstein that the Institute owns are in areas open only to members.

But you can walk in Einstein’s probable footsteps in the Institute

Woods – a 500-acre nature reserve that is an important stop-over point

for songbirds. By May a map of the woods will again be available from

the reception desk in Fuld Hall (the maps were out of stock at press


Founders Day, set for May 20, will feature a series of lectures

throughout the day that celebrate the Institute’s founding as well as

Albert Einstein. They will include talks on the three principal areas

of Einstein’s four papers of 1905 by current members in the School of

Natural Sciences: Philip Argyres on "Special Relativity," Simeon

Hellerman on "Brownian Motion and the Atomic Theory" and Graham Kribs

on "The Photoelectric Effect."

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Robert Berks’ Sculpture

The tour continues with a viewing of the new statue, a bust of

Einstein sculpted by the internationally known Robert Berks, on a

granite column. (Suggested parking behind Borough Hall on Monument


The bust is taken from the 12-foot Einstein Millennium Monument done

by Berks five years ago for the Israel Academy of Arts Sciences and

Humanities in Jerusalem. Berks also did the 24-foot Einstein

Centennial Monument on the grounds of the National Academy of Sciences

in Washington, D.C., which has become the third most photographed

memorial in the national capitol. Endless numbers of inner city

children have their picture taken there at graduation.

The memorial is a first, for Princeton. For years the town battled

over whether the great man would have wanted a statue. The anti-statue

contingent took strength from the wishes of Einstein’s stepdaughter,

Margot, who left the house to the Institute with the restriction that

it not be turned into a museum or a public site. Resistance was also

fueled by the lack of funds.

"For a long time we had to deal with the myth that Einstein, in his

will, had forbidden any memorial, museum, or public acknowledgement of

his existence," says the historical society’s Smyth. "A few years ago

we finally acquired a copy of his will from the state and read it;

there is no language dealing with those issues."

Melvin A. Benarde, of the Einstein Fund of Princeton New Jersey,

spearheaded the drive to get this memorial, and publicist Dana

Lichtstrahl – believing the adage, nothing ventured, nothing gained –

had the presence of mind to ask the sculptor if he would donate his

services. Berks and his wife Tod, who handles the business aspects of

the work, readily agreed, because they felt it would make his life

come full circle, according to Robert Landau, who relates this story

from Berks:

Berks was commissioned to do a sculpture of Einstein in the early

1950s. He made a few sketches on the first day and planned to mold the

clay on the second day. But when Berks arrived, Einstein had just

taken a shower, and his hair was flat against his head. "There was no

way he could start sculpting," says Landau. "He made small talk for 15

or 20 minutes, stalling for time, wondering what he was going to do.

At which point Einstein ran his fingers through his hair several time.

And the hair was back. The coiffeur that had been flattened by the

shower had been blown out by his fingers. Berks was thrilled to be

given this opportunity."

With the Robert Berks Foundation donating the $150,000 head, and the

Italian granite being donated by Danny Vogia of Trenton-based

Stone-Tech Fabrication Inc., the Einstein Fund raised $35,000 to pay

for the engraving (by William Farrell of Abby Rose Inc. of Yardville),

plus the infrastructure, foundation, and installation. More than half

of this sum was donated by Dr. and Mrs. Stanley Levy of Bloomfield,

Michigan. Levy went to Princeton University, Class of 1947, and as a

student he had had a Passover dinner with Einstein and has long been a

supporter of a town memorial.

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Lunch Options

As a finale, walk up from the statue to lunch at the Peacock Inn on

Route 206 (Bayard Lane), which now has an elegant restaurant. Einstein

stayed there on October 17, 1933, when he had just arrived in


The Einstein family then moved to temporary quarters at 2 Library

Place (on the corner of Mercer Street) until the Mercer Street house

became available. In 1934 Elsa Einstein, Einstein’s second wife, wrote

that "we have settled down really well. The place is charming,

altogether different from the rest of America." The Library Place

house was "especially beautiful – very large, airy, comfortable,

exceptionally well situated right in the center of old park grounds.

Here, everything is tinged with Englishness – downright Oxford style."

A less expensive lunch can be found at the Frist student center on

Washington Road. Frist almost adjoins the building where Einstein had

his first office in Princeton (before the Institute was built). At

that time it was called Fine Hall; now it is called Jones Hall.

As an alternative, take a picnic lunch out to Carnegie Lake on Route

27 enroute to Kingston. Maybe you will be lucky enough to see a

sailboat similar to Einstein’s boat, named "Tinef" (German for

"worthless thing." Einstein called sailing "the sport that demands the

least energy" and reportedly refused to carry a life jacket on board,

though he could not swim.

According to Ze’ev Rosenkranz in "The Einstein Scrapbook," sailing

"allowed Einstein to lose himself in thought while the wind carried

him along. He was not interested in speed or competition. He was

delighted when there was a lull and the boat came to a standstill or

ran aground. He would often keep a notebook at hand, scribbling away

at scientific calculations when the sea was calm."

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Good Questions

Where is Einstein’s old desk from Fine Hall? Good question. The desk

was taken to Nassau Hall in the late 1960s, according to Robert A.

Winters (Princeton University, Class of 1935, now a resident at Meadow

Lakes), who reports the following to the Princeton Alumni Weekly:

"I heard that the furniture in Fine was to be thrown out, but I felt

Einstein’s desk ought to be preserved," wrote Winters. At that time he

was assistant to the chairman of the physics department. "So I went

into his old office, removed the desk, and had it taken to the office

of Dean of the Faculty Aaron Lemonick ’54, in Nassau Hall. I also had

a brass plaque made and installed on the back stating that the desk

had been used by both Einstein and Nobel physicist Eugene Wigner. I

once heard a professor say that Dean Lemonick liked to invite people

into his office, sit them down facing the desk, then reveal that it

had been used by Einstein and Wigner. It overwhelmed them from the


When Lemonick left the dean’s job, he took the desk back to the

physics department. After he died his son Michael (a science writer

for Time magazine) notified the department, and it has been put on

storage. A university spokesperson says that it is being worked on "to

preserve it."

Where is Einstein’s brain? One of the big news stories for 1978 was

when Steven Levy of the New Jersey Monthly found Einstein’s brain in

Wichita, Kansas, the home of Thomas Harvey, the Princeton Hospital

pathologist who had done Einstein’s autopsy. Harvey showed Levy the

brain, cut into 240 sections and floating in embalming fluid. The

fragments were divided between two Tupperware lettuce crispers.

Subsequent research found that Einstein’s brain weighed less than that

of the average male and that it had more glial cells for every

neuron. Arguably this meant that the neurons needed and used more

energy, which resulted in better thinking abilities and conceptual

skills. The density of the neurons was greater, but the space they

occupied (the cerebral cortex) was thinner than average, which meant

that his neurons were packed in more tightly. In the area on the right

and left parietal lobes, where mathematical talent and spatial

reasoning are thought to reside, Einstein’s brain had an unusual

pattern of "sulci" or grooves. Compared to an average brain, his was

15 percent wider.

Since 1996 the brain has resided at Princeton Hospital in the care of

Elliot Krauss, chief pathologist, who hopes that future gene

technology will offer important insights on the biological basis of

the great man’s intelligence.

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Books on Einstein

A favorite way to end a sightseeing tour is to buy a book. Both

Micawber Books at 114 Nassau Street and the Princeton University Store

at 36 University Place boast extensive Einstein collections. Here are

some recent favorites.

Einstein for Beginners, Joseph Schwartz & Michael McGinness,

(paperback, $11, Random House, 2003). If you aim to understand a

smidgen of the theory of relativity this audacious and droll book,

with its line drawings and characters, will be your guide. It explains

the fine points of math and takes the human factor into account.

The Einstein Almanac, Alice Calaprice (hardcover, $24.95, Johns

Hopkins University Press, 2005). This timeline for the first half of

the 20th century juxtaposes the facts of Einstein’s life and summaries

of his papers and letters with concurrent cultural trends and

scientific discoveries. An attractive and ideal reference, it makes

fascinating browsing or just plain good reading.

The New Quotable Einstein, collected and edited by Alice Calaprice

with a foreword by Freeman Dyson (paperback, $14.95, Princeton

University Press, 2005). Einstein genuinely liked writing letters, and

the typed, filed, and preserved copies were a research trove. Dyson

writes, "Einstein emerges from this collection of quotes, drawn from

many different sources, as a complete and fully rounded human being. .

. Knowledge of the darker side of Einstein’s life makes his

achievement in science and in public affairs even more miraculous.

This book shows him as he was – not a superhuman genius but a human

genius, and all the greater for being human."

An Einstein Scrapbook, Ze’ev Rosenkranz (hardbound, $24.95, 200 pages,

Johns Hopkins University Press, 2002). Though it qualifies as a

"coffee table" book this beautifully designed volume is a trove of

archival photographs, drawing, letters, and other memorabilia.

Footnote: The U-Store has four programs remaining in the spring series

of its "Einstein’s Miraculous Year" programs: Michelle Feynman’s book

on Richard Feynman on Saturday, April 16, at 2 p.m.; Rebecca Goldstein

on Kurt Godel on Thursday, April 21, at 7 p.m.; Jennet Conant on

Robert Oppenheimer on Wednesday, May 4, at 7 p.m., and Michio Kaku on

Einstein’s Cosmos on Saturday, May 28, at 11 a.m.

Those who pay a one-time lifetime fee of $25 get a 10 percent discount

on general books. But the U-Store coyly reveals, in the program

brochure, Einstein was a U-Store member, and that if you know his

U-Store membership number you can get his discount. The number is


— Barbara Fox

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