Landau's Einstein Exhibit Attracts Visitors from All Over the World

Matthew Hersh

It's not exactly where you would expect to look for a permanent homage to Albert Einstein. While you can find a bust memorializing Princeton's famous physicist in Monument Park, the only place in town at the moment where he is being showcased is in a woolens shop.

On Tuesday, a refurbished tribute to the physicist, who lived at 112 Mercer Street in the Borough from 1933 until his death in 1955, opened at Landau at 102 Nassau Street.

It couldn't have happened at a better time. Robert Landau, proprietor of Landau with his brother Henry, was not about to miss a chance to host the permanent installation with Princeton University's Reunions events scheduled to be in full swing starting this week.

It also makes sense because a look at just one page of Landau's now-legendary guest book provides a veritable global cross-section as evidence of just how big an attraction Einstein is when visitors come to Princeton.

Designed, installed, and produced by Dana Lichtstrahl, who also served as partnership coordinator for the 2004 Princeton Writers Block installation along Paul Robeson Place, this revised exhibit still contains letters, memorabilia, and images — some familiar, some revelations. Mr. Landau described the display as a necessary task: "It needs to be someplace and now that someplace is here."

Indeed, the Landau project has taken on a life all its own and it's fitting that the visual centerpiece of an exhibit in a wool store shows Einstein on his stoop wearing fuzzy wool slippers.

Sponsored by the Einstein Foundation of Princeton, a continuing contribution from the Times of Trenton, and Dr. Stanley Levy and his wife Rita Levy (who were major donors in the Einstein statue project), the display came to fruition based on three factors, Mr. Landau said. First: the aforementioned guestbook.

The day before the 2005 unveiling of the Einstein bust in Monument Park, people began telling the Landaus that they should have a guest book for their Einstein show area in the back of the store. "We spent $135 on a guest book, and I said 'for what?'"

Last week alone, spanning two pages in the guest book, there are signatories from Germany, Georgia, Japan, Bangladesh, Ireland, Washington DC, Spain, Denmark, Ohio, United Kingdom, and South Korea. "That's why the money was spent," Mr. Landau said

Second, the exhibit dates back to 1996; it became permanent about four years ago. "We keep hearing rumors," Mr. Landau said, "that the exhibit is going to be done 'the right way' somewhere else.

"It's still not being done yet. So it's here."

Third was the financial support from the three primary sponsors, in addition to help from former Times photographer Paul Savage, Taylor Photo, and Merrill Hemond, who was also a builder involved in Writers Block, and graphic designer Kim Waters.

"It wasn't a single-person event — it's really a community project," Mr. Landau said.

So what's up on the walls now in the back of Landau? Anything people were interested in, and some new pieces as well, Ms. Lichtstrahl said.

Some of the more popular attractions that have been rearranged for the display include a photo of the physicist sailing on Lake Carnegie, a handwritten letter from a 6-year-old Ann Kocin advising Einstein that "I think you ought to have your hair cut so you look better."

There are also some more serious themes addressed: an August 1, 1939 correspondence from FDR to Einstein regarding the inevitable advent of a catastrophic bomb; the physicist's desk the day after he died; a photo of Einstein with a group that includes mathematician and electrical engineer Charles Steinmetz; and several shots highlighting his final years in Princeton.

But perhaps the most intriguing theme is that the display genuinely, and quite successfully, attempts to portray Einstein as not only the brilliant physicist, but also a caring, grounded member of the community. The two most-read items on the wall include two magazine letters to the editor. First from Einstein:

"If I had to decide again how to make a living I would decide not to be a scientist, scholar, or teacher, but would rather choose to be a plumber or peddler in the hope to find that modest degree of independence, still available under present circumstances."

Four weeks later, R. Stanley Murray of Stanley Plumbing & Heating Co. responded:

"Since my ambitions have always been to be a scholar and yours is to be a plumber, I suggest that as a team, we would be tremendously successful. We can then be possessed of both knowledge and independence: I'm ready to exchange the name of my firm to read 'Einstein & Stanley Plumbing Co.'"

It's safe to say the world is probably better off that Einstein did not follow his alternate ambitions.

The installation is on permanent display during normal Landau hours, Monday through Saturday, 9:30 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. Landau will be open this Sunday, June 4, from 10:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. for Princeton University Reunions weekend, but is typically closed Sundays.

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