Tag Archives: Historical Society of Princeton

Einstein Ever Fascinates

einstein house
Einstein lived at 110 Mercer Street, now a private home with no house number.

While on duty to give tours of the Tiffany window at Princeton United Methodist Church, I encountered a visitor who wanted to take an historical tour, shorter than the ones offered by the Historical Society of Princeton.

Princeton Tour Company is your answer, I said, but you will still have to hoof it.

Vainly I looked in online files to find one of my 20 minute driving tours, titled “Gossips’ Guide to Princeton,” but I did find this “Einstein Tour,” written in 2005. It’s longer than 20 minutes if you get out at each stop. I’ve updated it a little. It begins:

Einstein has always been Princeton’s most sought-after celebrity. Visitors from Europe who are visibly unimpressed by “old” buildings like Nassau Hall, and those from other continents who turn a deaf ear to stories of the town’s role in the Revolutionary War – they all know about Albert Einstein and are eager to view any signs of the great man’s legacy.

Continue on the Einstein journey

The newest addition to the Einstein tour might be the sculpture that intends to represent Einstein’s brain, pictured in this article on the Arts Council of Princeton website. 

sculpture of einstein's brain

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February 2 will be Walter Harris Day.  A Princeton Borough police officer, he was shot and killed in the line of duty on February 2, 1946.  Greta Cuyler writes about it for Princeton Patch.

What caught my eye was this paragraph: The grandson of slaves, Walter Harris was born in Princeton and grew up on Jackson Street, which later became Paul Robeson Place. The family’s house was moved to Birch Street when Palmer Square was being developed and the trolley used to run in back of the Harris’ house.

What is now Palmer Square was formerly an a neighborhood of African Americans, many of whom worked at the university.  Those who now live in what is sometimes known as “the Witherspoon neighborhood”  remember the displacement.

Palmer Square is now, indeed, a tremendous asset to Princeton for both tourists and townies. It is a wonderful gathering place. But, as Sheldon Sturges says, it was “an enormous social  justice wound.”

For the Historical Society of Princeton, Shirley Satterfield has put together a wonderful tour of the African American history of Princeton — and anyone can take it, any time, via cellphone.

Scripture Tour: No Andrew Carnegie Library Here

bainbridge-houseBainbridge House, home of the Historical Society of Princeton, is the former home of Princeton’s municipal library. Princeton was not one of the 1689 cities to which Andrew Carnegie donated a library building. As the story goes, the university asked Carnegie to donate, not a library building, but a lake for its rowing team. Result: Carnegie Lake, hand dug.

A just-aired NPR story by Susan Stamberg reveals that Carnegie (some compare him with Bill Gates) was a self-made steel magnate. Fresh from Scotland, as a 17-year-old worker, he petitioned the Pittsburgh library to let him borrow books and was at first refused, but prevailed until the policy was changed. An indefatigable worker, he sold U.S. Steel for half a billion dollars to JP Morgan and then, as Stamberg said, “gave it all away,” or at least $350 million of it.

Carnegie money paid for impressive buildings in the style of the time. What would Princeton have looked like with one of those? Perhaps it would have been built on campus? In any case, the eager readers of Princeton had to find their books stuffed into an 18th century home, getting a purpose built building only in 1966. Now Princeton has its Taj Mahal building, adored perhaps even worshipped, called “Princeton’s living room.”

Perhaps it is a double blessing that we don’t have a Carnegie building. We might not have had the gumption to tear it down to build our three-story Taj Mahal.

(This post is part of the Scripture Tour of Princeton series, inspired by a tour I gave to Ohio’s Peddling Parsons when they visited us at Princeton United Methodist Church. But I haven’t decided on the Bible verse. Suggestions?)

We can’t hear this story without two codas. Carnegie famously built his empire on the backs of the steel workers, provoking the bitterest union fight in the history of this nation. And, supposedly Ellen Wilson, wife of the university president Woodrow Wilson, entertained Carnegie in her home (now Prospect House) and importuned Carnegie to give Princeton a library. Carnegie’s answer: “Madam, I gave you a lake.”