Einstein on the front stoop of 112 Mercer St.
Wintertime walk from home to the Institute for Advanced Study. (Alan Taylor)
ALSO IN 1933
* The darkness of Nazi terror descended over Germany as Chancellor Adolph Hitler and his brownshirts seized control of the government. By year’s end, the regime had supressed civil liberties and set up the first concentration camps.
* The New Jersey State Teacher College moved out of Trenton and into the campus of red-brick halls in the Hillwood Lakes section of Ewing. Later, the school would be renamed Trenton State College; In 1996, it became the College of New Jersey.
* A Navy airship, the Akron, crashed during a storm off the Jersey shore at Barnegat, killing 74 of the 77 officerss and men aboard.
* In his "First 100 Days," the new president, Franklin D. Roosevelt, instituted an alphabet soup of Depression-fighting programs: The CCC, CWA, AAA, TVA and NRA. The NRA, a program of industrial cooperation, was heavily promoted through the motto "We do our part’’ and a mascot, the Blue Eagle. Philadephia’s pro football team would be named the Eagles after the NRA bird.
* Roosevelt almost never got to be president. Two weeks before his inauguration, he was in Miami when a mentally disturbed assassin from Paterson, Giuseppe Zangara, fired at him. The fuslilade of shots missed FDR but killed the mayor Chicago, seated right next to Roosevelt. Zangara was sent to the electric chair a month later.
Einstein greets photographers in his unique way.
Sailing on Carnegie Lake.
|1933: The genius next door|
|By JON BLACKWELL / The Trentonian|
|When 8-year-old Adelaide Delong struggled over her addition and times tables, she turned to the one Princeton neighbor she figured could help -- Albert Einstein.
Clutching a plate of homemade fudge and a book of arithmetic problems, young Addie knocked on 112 Mercer St. one day in the 1930s and told the white-haired man who opened the door: "Will you show me how to do my homework?"
The world's greatest scientist could have shooed the little girl off, telling her he was at work on a theory to explain the nature of all physical forces in the universe.
But Einstein didn't do that. Instead, he smiled and accepted Addie's chocolate gift. As gently as he could, he said he would love teach her to add and subtract, but that wouldn't be fair to the other girls at school. And he gave her a cookie in return for her fudge.
"She was a very naughty girl," Einstein would later say with his distinctive, hearty chuckle. "Do you know she tried to bribe me with candy?
From the moment Albert Einstein arrived in Princeton in 1933, a shaggy, sweater-wearing genius with a pipe in one hand and a sheaf of papers in the other, stories like the one about the girl's homework got a good laugh. And the amazing thing is, they were true.
He had no interest in publicizing himself -- "my life is a simple thing that would interest no one," he said -- but his characteristic modesty only made him the more beloved.
Beloved, that is, everywhere but in his native Germany, where Adolf Hitler took power in January 1933.
The Nazis despised Einstein on three counts. He was too smart for them, he was Jewish, and he advocated world peace. It didn't matter that his famous formula of E = MC squared laid the theoretical basis for an atomic bomb; Under the twisted logic of anti-Semitism, he was Jewish. Therefore, his work -- work that had wrapped up thousands of years of scientific observation into a few, dazzling theories -- was "Jewish physics" and must be wrong.
While Hitler raved, his goons went into action. They burned Einstein's treatises. They raided his lakeside villa in suburban Berlin. They seized his furniture books, bank account and even his violin.
Einstein's fellow physicists, the leading brains of German society, goose-stepped right in line with the brownshirts and threw him out of the Prussian Academy of Science as a "traitor."
Fortunately, Einstein was world-wise enough to know what was coming.
The previous fall, he had accepted an invitation from educator Abraham Flexner to study in America. Flexner's idea was to create a haven where physicists and mathematicians could ponder the nature of the world while remaining free from the world's cares -- and free from having to teach. He called this haven the Institute for Advanced Study, endowed it and set it up on the Princeton University campus.
Einstein left Germany for good in December 1932, a month before the Hitler takeover. For most of 1933, he lectured and studied in England and in Belgium. In October, he set sail for America, for what he thought would be a six-month appointment at the Institute.
A delegation of well-wishers were on hand Oct. 17 to greet the great scientist. Einstein gave them the slip. He debarked south of Manhattan, was whisked to the Jersey Shore by launch and driven to Princeton.
Einstein's first act in Princeton was to buy an ice-cream cone. He stopped at the Baltimore ice cream parlor on Nassau Street and ordered vanilla with chocolate sprinkles. An amazed divinity student, John Lampe, watched a transaction that stayed with him the rest of his life. "The great man looked at the cone, smiled at me ... and pointed his thumb first at the cone and then at himself," Lampe later recalled.
On arrival, Einstein made it clear he wished to stay in seclusion. But a group of girl trick-or-treaters knocked on his door at 2 Library Place Halloween night, Einstein came to the front porch and played the violin for them.
Originally, Einstein's stay in Princeton was to be a temporary one. The growing menace of fascism, however, made it unlikely he would ever return to Europe, and he never did.
The new Princetonian never was a fervid booster of his adopted town and once laughed at the borough's leading figures as "demigods on stilts." But he chose to stay anyway.
Carnegie Lake offered him a place to engage in his second-favorite pastime, boating; at his home, he
could practice his greatest love, music.
In 1935, Einstein settled into 112 Mercer St., a white, clapboard house with a spacious back yard for gardening. Five yars later, he took an oath of United States citizenship at the federal building in Trenton, and became an American patriot in his quiet, unostentatious way.
The Mercer Street household also included Einstein's second wife, Elsa, who died in 1936; her daughter, Margot; and the professor's doting secretary, Helen Dukas.
Left behind in Europe were Einstein's first wife and his two sons, one of them an incurable schizophrenic. With time, revisionist historians, would claim Einstein was a cruel, impatient and neglectful husband. But his acquaintances in Princeton had a different impression: of a relaxed, cozy home life where the professor chatted with his friends in German.
Sycophants and glory-seekers clamored to the Einstein household. The professor was wary of them. He preferred friends like young Gillett Griffin, who was an art historian working at Firestone Library with one of Einstein's Czech lady friends.
In 1953, Griffin got an invitation to dine with the Einsteins.
He had the same tastes in music -- Bach, Mozart, Vivaldi -- and he knew I wasn't trying to cash in on his fame," said Griffin, who still lives in Princeton. "After dinner, he said he had work to do and excused himself. I offered to help with the dishes and he said, 'Ach, in Europe, only the women do the dishes!
"Before I left, he showed me this wind-up toy. It was a dickie bird with suction cups for feet, and he put it against a mirror and it climbed to the top. And here I was standing, with my jaw down to my clavicle, and Einstein was watching my face this whole time. Intently.
"He asked me, 'Did you like that?" And I said yes. And afterward, Helen told me, 'You're his friend now.' "
Princetonians loved to joke about Einstein as the absent-minded professor. And absent-minded he could be.
Someone once called the dean's office for directions. "How do I get to Albert Einstein's home?" the caller asked. When the man at the dean's office said he couldn't give out those directions, there was a pause on the other end. Then, a sigh, and a response: "This is Albert Einstein. I got lost walking home from the campus."
But Einstein had to wrestle with problems more weighty than Princeton geography.
In 1905, as a 26-year-old patent clerk, he had floored the science community with special relativity -- adding a fourth dimension, time, to length, height and width. Then, he followed it up with E = MC squared, which proposed that atomic mass could be converted into energy.
By the time of his Princeton years in the '30s, Einstein was growing frustrated by the new quantum theory of physics, where subatomic bodies inhabited a speculative world that behaved according to statistical probabilities, not cause and effect.
"God does not play dice," he muttered and set to work trying to find a grand theory that would replace quantum mechanics with earthly logic. He never came up with it.
Einstein never helped to split the atom and doubted it was even possible. But in 1939, he signed a letter to President Franklin Roosevelt urging him to consider development of an atomic bomb -- a bomb perhaps powerful enough to destroy an entire city -- before Nazi Germany could do the same.
After Hiroshima and Nagasaki, the man who devised E = MC squared was seized by a regretful conscience. He campaigned for world government to end the chance of atomic war. He spoke out for civil rights for blacks. His work on behalf of creating a Jewish state of Israel led the new nation to offer him its presidency. (He politely declined.)
In the turbulent atmosphere of the Cold War, some people smeared Einstein as an agitator with "un-American" views, perhaps even a communist.
But for most of the world, his godlike stature only increased with age. His hair grew whiter and wilder, his eyes seemed more soulful and understanding. His daily walks to the Institute for Advanced Study, sandals flapping against his sockless ankles, became slower and slower.
This was the Einstein that Mary Wisnovsky remembered. "To us kids, he was fascinating," said Wisnovsky, who was 6 when she first saw Einstein, and who still lives on Mercer Street neat the Einstein home.
"It wasn't because he was famous -- we didn't know anything about that -- but he had this exotic accent and he was this wonderful, grandfather-like neighbor."
Einstein never lost his sense of humor. The year before he died, he was laughing with Griffin over a letter he got from a Catholic priest friend. The priest wrote that he prayed for Einstein every day through the Virgin Mary -- and that Einstein shouldn't mind, since she was a nice Jewish girl.
On April 18, 1955, at age 76, Einstein died at Princeton Hospital. He had been ill with heart disease and murmured a few words in German before he expired. Because the nurse didn't speak the language, his last words will never be known.
Einstein's will instructed that his brain be removed for further study. Most of it is still kept at a secret location. by the same Hopewell doctor, Thomas Harvey, who performed Einstein's autopsy. Cross-sections of the brain the century's most powerful engine of scientific thought are sometimes mailed to specialists seeking signs of abnormality. Results have been inconclusive.
The rest of Einstein's body was burned at the Ewing Crematorium and the ashes scattered at an unknown site.
So the greatest scientist of modern times has no grave marker. But a cartoon done by Herblock after Einstein's death suggested that didn't matter.
The drawing showed planet Earth with a simple inscription:
"Einstein lived here."