We’ve Got Einstein’s Brain!

Chatterbox has decamped to Princeton, N.J. for the Thanksgiving holiday. This morning he parked his children with their cousins in front of a video and set off on his annual walk down Nassau Street. Most everyplace was closed, and the usually reliable Palmer Square kiosk hadn’t received any copies of the New York Times or Washington Post or Wall Street Journal. (Memo to Peter Kann, chairman of Dow Jones, who lives a few blocks away: Are you going to stand for this?)[Correction, 11/27/98: Whoops, the Journal doesn’t publish on Thanksgiving. Chatterbox, who worked at the place for six years, ought to have remembered that.]   Instead, Chatterbox purchased a copy of the Princeton Packet and retreated to a nearby Einstein Bros. Bagels.

Yuck! Right there on the front page was a near-lifesize photo of an outstretched hand holding three fragments of Albert Einstein’s brain, “encoded and encapsulated in a wax-like substance.” The hand belongs to Dr. Elliot Krause, who will be the brain’s new keeper. It’s being passed on to him by Dr. Thomas Harvey, “who performed the autopsy on the genius in 1955 and at that time decided to preserve the organ for future study. ‘I kept it to find out, if possible, what was the source of his intelligence, of his genius,’ Dr. Harvey said.”

This story doesn’t do much to dispel Chatterbox’s impression that Princeton is, to an inordinate degree, some kind of Einstein Museum. When Chatterbox was applying to colleges in 1975, the Princeton alumnus who interviewed him said his fondest memory of the place was once seeing Albert Einstein cross the street. For this and other reasons, Chatterbox attended college elsewhere. The only movie Chatterbox knows about that was ever filmed in Princeton–which one would think scenic enough to be used more often–was the cloying IQ, in which Einstein was portrayed by Walter Matthau as an adorable yente. Chatterbox rented it once, and gave up about halfway through. Chatterbox’s sister-in-law, a real estate agent in Princeton, has shown a house whose owner lovingly preserved a chair that Einstein had sat in precisely once. People are constantly driving down Mercer Street to get a look at Einstein’s former house.

Chatterbox doesn’t dispute that Albert Einstein was probably the smartest guy who ever lived, but he doesn’t understand why Princeton fails to give its other illustrious alumni and former professors–F. Scott Fitzgerald, Woodrow Wilson, David Remnick–even a fraction of this kind of respect. The only one who comes close is George Kennan, the magisterially gloomy Russia scholar, who of course is still alive. (Attribution note: Chatterbox is borrowing “magisterially gloomy” from Nicholas Lemann’s brief description of Kennan in The Promised Land.) When Kennan dies, will the Father of Containment’s brain go to the Institute for Advanced Study?

–Timothy Noah