Friday, February 10, 2012

The Day Albert Einstein Died Photos by Ralph Morse

Albert Einstein, whose theories exploded and reshaped our ideas of how the universe works, died on April 18, 1955, of heart failure. He was 76. His funeral and cremation were intensely private affairs, and only one photographer managed to capture the events of that extraordinary day: LIFE magazine’s Ralph Morse.

Armed with his camera and a case of scotch — to open doors and loosen tongues — Morse compiled a quietly intense record of a 20th-century icon’s passing. But aside from one now-famous image — of Einstein’s office, exactly how he left it, taken hours after his death — the pictures Morse took that day were never published. At the request of Einstein’s son, who asked that the family’s privacy be respected while they mourned, LIFE’s editors chose not to run the full story, and for more than five decades Morse’s photographs lay in the magazine’s archives, unseen and forgotten.

Now LIFE presents a selection of Morse’s photographs from that day, as well as Morse’s own memories of what it felt like 57 years ago, on a spring morning in Northern New Jersey, when he found himself racing around an Ivy League town trying to find out what became of the late, great scientist...

Ralph Morse's famous photograph of Albert Einstein's office -- just as the Nobel Prize-winning physicist left it -- taken mere hours after Einstein died, Princeton, New Jersey, April 1955.

Einstein's papers, pipe, ashtray, and other personal belongings in his Princeton office, April 18, 1955. After getting a call that morning from a LIFE editor telling him Einstein had died, Ralph Morse grabbed his cameras and drove the ninety miles from his house in northern New Jersey to Princeton.

Early in the afternoon, Einstein's body was moved for a short time from the hospital to a funeral home in Princeton. The simple casket containing the corpse, post-autopsy, only stayed at the funeral home for an hour or so. Morse made his way there, and soon saw two men loading a casket into a hearse. For all Morse knew, Einstein's burial was imminent. Hoping to scope out a spot near the grave, he quickly drove to the Princeton Cemetery.

Pictured, from left: Unidentified woman; Einstein's son, Hans Albert (in light suit); unidentified woman; Einstein's longtime secretary, Helen Dukas (in light coat); and friend Dr. Gustav Bucky (partially hidden behind Dukas) arrive at the Ewing Crematorium in Trenton on the afternoon of April 18, 1955.

Mourners walk into the service for Einstein, passing the parked hearse that carried his body from Princeton.

Friends and family make their way to their cars after the service for Einstein. The ceremony was brief: Einstein's friend Otton Nathan, an economist at Princeton and co-executor of the Einstein estate, read some lines by the great German poet, Goethe. Immediately after the service, Einstein's remains were cremated.

An unidentified man holds a car door open for Einstein's secretary, Helen Dukas, following Einstein's cremation.

Late in the afternoon, family and friends return to Einstein's home at 112 Mercer Street in Princeton, where he lived for 20 years.

Dr. Thomas Harvey (1912 - 2007) was the pathologist who conducted the autopsy on Einstein at Princeton Hospital in 1955. The stranger-than-fiction tale of Einstein's brain -- which Harvey controversially removed during the autopsy, carefully sliced into sections, and then kept for years for research purposes -- and the intrigues long-associated with the famous organ, are far too convoluted to go into here.

(Ralph Morse – Time & Life Pictures/Getty Images)

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