A hundred years on Nov. 25, 1915 Albert Einstein presented his famous theory of relativity to the Prussian Academy of Science in Germany. His theory of relativity turned 100 years old and, in a “watershed moment” for science, his findings on gravitational waves were finally proved. The anniversary and recent discovery brought the world’s attention to the Albert Einstein archives at Hebrew University in Jerusalem. Einstein was a founder of the school and bequeathed to the Israeli university 80,000 documents, which span the spectrum of both his personal and professional life.
But from Einstein’s death emerges a different chapter. It’s a story that’s not garnering as much attention. It happened just eight hours after the legendary physicist passed away on April 18, 1955. Princeton Hospital pathologist Dr. Thomas Stoltz Harvey was performing the autopsy and, when nobody was looking, he did the unthinkable: He stole Albert Einstein’s brain.
“It’s a macabre story. It was a scandal. It was done against the will of his family,” Hanoch Gutfreund, the director of the Albert Einstein Archives at Hebrew University in Jerusalem, told From The Grapevine. Einstein was a founder of Hebrew University, a member of its Board of Governors and the chairman of its Academic Committee. He bequeathed to the university all his papers, documents and personal correspondence. Which makes Gutfreund, himself a theoretical physicist, perhaps the world’s leading expert on Einstein’s legacy.
Harvey hadn’t snatched the brain for the morbid fascination of keeping a part of history the same way some collectors have done with Annie Oakley’s gun or Neil Armstrong’s hair. Instead, Harvey was hoping to learn whether or not Einstein’s genius could be quantified. Was his brain somehow wired differently than ours? Gutfreund dismisses that line of research. “I don’t know,” he says. “Your brain is different than my brain. There are no two brains alike.”
For the next several decades, Harvey kept the nearly three-pound brain and stored it in a succession of beer coolers, cookie jars and, eventually, a Tupperware container. Harvey’s actions were immortalized in the song “Stealing Einstein’s Brain” by the British heavy metal band Attic of Love.
While Harvey’s research never fully materialized, scientists in 2013 did discover that Einstein’s brain was indeed distinct. Their study found that the association between the left and right hemispheres of his brain were atypical, with enhanced connection between these two parts. As it turns out, this brain trait is also shared by jugglers and musicians. (Einstein, you’ll recall, played the violin.)
So what ended up happening to Einstein’s brain?
That question nagged at a young journalist named Michael Paterniti, a writer for Esquire and GQ magazines. In the late 1990s, he tracked down the octogenarian Harvey at his home in New Jersey. (Einstein’s brain was, by now, 118 years old.) Peterniti convinced the retired pathologist that it was time to return the brain to its rightful owner – Evelyn Einstein, the physicist’s granddaughter in California.
So the two men, along with Einstein’s brain in a Tupperware container resting on the back seat, hopped into a Buick Skylark and went on what has to be one of the most bizarre American road trips of all time.
In a review of the book, the New York Times wrote: “Reading ‘Driving Mr. Albert’ is like having breakfast in a roadside diner next to a stranger who starts bending your ear with some far-fetched yarn. You start out skeptical, but then, as he hits his stride, you find yourself rapt, the pancakes growing cold in front of you.”
Harvey passed away in 2007 at the age of 94. History buffs hoping to catch a glimpse of Einstein’s brain are in luck. Pieces of it, mounted on microscopic slides, are now part of a permanent exhibition at the Mütter Museum in Philadelphia.
As for the legacy of the man himself, one needn’t travel far. “The interest in Einstein does not fade into history,” says Hebrew University’s Gutfreund, who just published a book about Einstein’s most famous theory called “The Road to Relativity. If one can say anything about this, the interest in Einstein increases with time,” he says. “It’s greater now.”
Next, Duffy Hudson, a theater actor from Los Angeles does a one-man show about Einstein.
So how did Hudson find himself wearing the shoes of a genius?
He was first introduced to Einstein when he was in third grade and his teacher showed the class a documentary about the famous scientist.
“Oh my god, it was mind-blowing,” said Hudson.