Saturday, October 11, 2003
Princeton, N.J. Gawkers have long stopped by the home where Albert Einstein lived for 20 years, although the Mercer Street house, still a private residence, is not open to the public.
Soon, however, curious tourists and others will have a chance to see some of the famous physicist's favorite possessions, including furnishings historians say were covertly shipped out of Nazi Germany to the United States.
The Historical Society of Princeton announced Thursday that it planned to restore and display at its museum some 65 items donated by the Institute for Advanced Study, where Einstein became one of the first faculty members in 1933.
"Now we will be able to offer visitors to Princeton and to school groups and to our own residents a glimpse into the life of this great physicist," said Dee Patberg, historical society president.
The collection includes Einstein's music stand, his favorite armchair and a grandfather clock. The belongings had stayed in the Einstein home, where an institute faculty member lives, until about a year ago when the residence underwent renovations.
Rachel Gray, associate director at the Institute for Advanced Study, said the local historical society was best suited to restore and preserve the furniture, which had most recently been put in storage.
Many of the pieces, some of which date back to the early 18th century, were shipped to a fictitious name in the United States as part of an effort to smuggle the items out of Germany.
Ownership of the house where Einstein lived went to the institute after his stepdaughter, Margot, died in 1986.
The institute was instructed not to turn the house into a museum, but organizers said Thursday they thought a display of Einstein's belongings would be consistent with the family's wishes.
"We know that he wasn't shy and we also know that he used his influence in very positive ways to bring refugees here from Nazi Germany," said Gail Stern, director of the historical society. "He used his fame in order to accomplish a great deal, so we don't feel that this is anything that goes against his ideals."
The organization is discussing plans to create a long-term exhibition, although most of the furniture will remain in storage for the time being, Stern said.
Maureen Smyth, an education curator at the historical society, said such a display would not be a "gawk fest."
"It's a focus on education and fulfilling that huge need that the world has to learn about this man," Smyth said. "People come from all over the planet to this town looking for information about the man; they want to know what he was about."