Town Topics — Princeton's Weekly Community Newspaper Since 1946.
Vol. LXV, No. 6
Wednesday, February 9, 2011
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The Genius at Home: Einstein’s Domestic Life Chronicled in Historical Society’s Latest Show

Dilshanie Perera

A rarely seen side of Albert Einstein is showcased at the Historical Society of Princeton’s (HSP) latest exhibit, which displays furniture and personal items that the physicist used in his home on Mercer Street, where he lived from 1933 to 1955.

“Einstein at Home,” features photographs and objects ranging from ornate armoires and cabinets, to Einstein’s desk and favorite chair.

Traversing the exhibit, the viewer gets a sense of the domestic life of Einstein and the objects he encountered every day, many of which had been transported from Germany, shipped under false names after Einstein and his wife fled the country for the United States.

“One of the reasons for doing this show was to get Einstein’s furniture out into the world,” said HSP Curator of Exhibitions Eileen Morales, who added that Einstein’s stepdaughter Margot had donated his house at 112 Mercer Street and its contents to the Institute for Advanced Study in the late 1990s.

The Historical Society received a donation of Einstein’s furniture from the Institute in 2003, and many of the objects in the show are on view for the first time.

Home was an important space for Einstein, particularly since it was likely that many of his scientific theories were hatched and developed there. After receiving his doctorate in physics at the turn of the 20th century, Einstein was hard-pressed to find a job at a University, so he became a patent officer 3rd class in Bern, Switzerland. But while he was a civil servant by day, he was a physicist by night, expanding upon his theories and gathering together contemporaries for salon discussions.

While still working at the patent office, Einstein published four papers in 1905 that revolutionized the field of physics and the understanding of atoms at the time, making the year known as his “Miracle Year.”

“All of that thought process was likely happening when he got home,” Ms. Morales acknowledged, adding that Einstein’s “home life was key to the development of major themes.”

Most of the furniture that Einstein used was most likely made in Germany during the late 19th century, in the Baroque revival style of the 1880s, according to Ms. Morales. A few pieces from the earlier 19th century are also part of the collection.

The photographs shown adjacent to the pieces further develop the story of Einstein’s domestic space and his interactions there. While his first visit in 1921 was to deliver lectures on the theory of relativity, he received a permanent full-time appointment at the Institute for Advanced Study in 1933.

In October of 1933, Einstein stayed at the Peacock Inn while looking for a residence. After renting 2 Library Place, he and his wife moved to their home on Mercer Street in 1935.

Einstein played the violin and was generally a music afficionado, enjoying Mozart, Bach, and Vivaldi, in particular. His victrola, originally made in Camden in 1919, is on display in the exhibition as well.

Sailing was another favorite pastime, and images of Einstein going out on Lake Carnegie can be seen in the show. Ms. Morales noted that Einstein sometimes became stuck out in the waters and had to be pulled ashore on more than one occasion.

Images of Einstein engaging with other leaders of the time in his home show the scientist speaking with Paul Robeson, Marian Anderson, and Jahwahalal Nehru, among others.

Einstein’s humanist causes are illustrated in the last gallery of the exhibition, observed Ms. Morales, who noted that after receiving the Nobel Prize in 1921, he began being solicited for opinions on various topics. He campaigned for getting people out of Europe during World War II, and for equal rights for African Americans in the United States.

Activities geared toward children are also part of the show.

“Einstein at Home” runs through January 16, 2012 at Bainbridge House, 158 Nassau Street, which is open from noon to 4 p.m., Tuesday through Sunday. For more information, call (609) 921-6748 ext. 100 or visit princetonhistory.org.

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