Search for Albert Einstein's Brain Part 1

About one man's search for the brain of genius Albert Einstein.


by Steven Levy

Albert Einstein lived in Princeton, N.J. A small house, address 112 Mercer Street. He was a familiar figure in the town, usually walking around in a ragged sweater and tennis shoes, thin gray hair awry, thoughts entangled in a complex mathematical labyrinth. Children loved him; he would occasionally help them with their homework.

In 1955 he was working on a theory of gravitation that he would never perfect. He had turned down the presidency of Israel three years earlier and was now involved in drafting a letter with Bertrand Russell imploring the nations of the world to abolish war. He was noted as the greatest thinker in the world. He had changed our conception of time and space. But at 76 his health was failing.

The doctors called it a hardened aorta. It leaked blood. He had known about the fault in his heart for several years. When first hearing that the artery might develop aneurysm that could burst, he said, "Let it burst." On Apr. 13 it looked as if it might.

His physician, Dr. Guy K. Dean, called in two consultants, and the three doctors concluded that unless surgery was attempted, the outlook was grim. The creator of the theory of relativity refused. On Friday, Apr. 15, Einstein was persuaded to move his sickbed from Mercer Street to the Princeton Hospital.

During the weekend things began to look better. Einstein's son, Hans Albert, flew in from California. His stepdaughter Margot was already in the hospital, being treated for a minor illness. On Sunday it looked as if the aneurysm might heal temporarily. Dr. Dean took a look at his patient at eleven P.M. He was sleeping peacefully.

The nurse assigned to Einstein was named Alberta Roszel. After midnight she noticed some troubled breathing in her patient. She went to get help. The bed was cranked up. Pale and emaciated, Albert Einstein was muttering something in German, a language Alberta Roszel did not understand. He took two deep breaths and died.

Princeton Hospital in 1955 was not the major facility it would become in later years. A major mobilization was needed to handle publicity on the occasion of the death of such a well-known international figure. Almost seven hours after the death, the hospital announced it and set up a news conference at 11:15. During the hours between the death and the release of details, the Einstein family, their friends, and the hospital officials worked in concert to deny the reporters then flooding to Princeton any scenes to witness, any physical evidence to describe to the millions who craved more than cold facts. Einstein had specifically asked that he not become the subject of a "personality cult."

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