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Tribute to Einstein Helps Residents Remember A Legend

Candace Braun

Residents gathered outside Borough Hall on Monday to celebrate the 100th anniversary of Albert Einstein's Special Theory of Relativity and the World Year of Physics, as well as the 50th anniversary of Einstein's death.

A decade after one Township resident brought public attention to the fact that there was no formal monument to Einstein in Princeton, the Borough has installed a bronze bust of the scientist who was named "Man of the 20th Century" by Time magazine, and who spent the last 22 years of his life at 112 Mercer Street in Princeton.

On Monday, residents, officials, and others who have helped bring the idea to fruition gathered at Borough Hall to unveil Einstein's likeness, in the form of a 300-pound bronze bust, which sits atop a 5,000-pound granite pedestal.

Calling Einstein's time in Princeton his "quiet years," Borough Mayor Joe O'Neill read out a proclamation that declared April 18, 2005, Albert Einstein Day.

The bust, worth approximately $150,000, was donated by its creator, Robert Berks, through The Robert Berks Foundation. The statue was taken from his original molds for a 12-foot Einstein Millennial Monument that was placed at the Israel Academy of Sciences in Jerusalem in 1999.

But this was not the first statue of Einstein that the sculptor created; his first bust was made during a visit to Einstein's home in Princeton on April 18, 1953, a likeness that later was used to create a 24-foot seated Einstein Centennial Monument on the grounds of the National Academy of Sciences in Washington D.C. in 1978.

Einstein appreciated the sculptor's work, writing in a letter to Mr. Berks in 1954, one year before his death, "I admire the bust highly as a portrait and not less as a characterization of mental personality."

The Einstein Fund of Princeton has supported the project since its inception, and, with help from the Borough more recently, is responsible for the engraved granite pedestal and 25-foot block of land, now known as "EMC Square."

The engraving tells how Einstein began his life in 1879 in Ulm, Germany, left his mark on civilization with his papers on the Theory of Relativity, and spent his last years as a resident of Princeton and a professor at the Institute for Advanced Study.

"Humanitarian," "physicist," "educator," and "immigrant" are engraved in the stone, designed by Hillier landscape architect Brian Meneghin, to remind Princeton of the roles that made Einstein important to both Princeton, and the world.

Meeting Einstein

A few days before Princeton unveiled its tribute, the statue's creator gave a personal account of Einstein in a Town Topics interview.

Having devoted more than half a century to his work, Mr. Berks, 83, has sculpted more than 300 busts and 14 monuments. But he remembers the day he met Einstein 52 years ago as if it were yesterday.

"I spent two days [in his home] that changed my entire life," said Mr. Berks. "It's something I want to share with the entire world."

Mr. Berks was invited to Einstein's home after the scientist viewed some of his work: "He said it took him less than a fraction of a second to realize he wanted to sit for me."

The sculptor's wife, Dorothy, who was 24 at the time, also vividly remembers the experience, as she was left alone to make small talk with the great thinker while her husband retrieved his supplies. She recalled Einstein picking up a small puzzle-like object off his shelf and playing with it, asking Mrs. Berks if she could help him solve it.

"It broke the ice," she said. "After that we spoke freely for the entire two daysŠ. There was a completely relaxed, collegiate attitude between us."

Mr. Berks worked two long days on the sculpture, his wife assisting him by supplying him with the necessary clay.

"We talked about many things together," said Mr. Berks, adding that they had a common interest in sailing.

"There were all sorts of stories about Einstein being rescued [while sailing}," said Mrs. Berks. "He wasn't a very good sailor," she laughed.

Mr. Berks recalled how the 8-year-old girl next door would come over to Einstein's house after school to get help with her arithmetic, after which they would walk together to the corner store for an ice cream cone.

As an artist, Mr. Berks, who was 31 at the time, naturally remembers more about Einstein's appearance than anything else.

"He was a natty dresser," he kidded, adding that he was often seen wearing a sweatshirt with sandals, regardless of the weather. "He hated socks."

Referring to one of Einstein's most visible features, the sculptor said the scientist's hair was particularly memorable. When he arrived at the house it was neatly combed, but within 15 minutes it was sticking out in all directions. Mr. Berks said this happened because Einstein would pull at his hair and tug at his mustache while he pondered scientific problems.

"I asked him how he came to his hairstyle," said Mr. Berks," and he said, ŒThrough negligence.'" Mr. Berks noticed that the scientist would seem to get lost in his thoughts, and when he snapped back to reality, "it was as though he came back from being millions and millions of light years away."

Asked how he first began to ponder the Theory of Relativity, Einstein told Mr. Berks that when he was 13 years old he wondered what it would be like to ride on a beam of light.

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