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June 16, 2015

The Story Behind the Historic Image of Albert Einstein at the Grand Canyon in 1931

In 1931, Caltech invited Albert Einstein to spend some time on their campus, with the hopes that he might eventually join their faculty. While in Southern California, he met Charlie Chaplin, enjoyed the mild winter, ruffled a few conservative feathers, then eventually left town. On the train ride back across the country, he visited the Hopi House, near the Grand Canyon, where he posed for a picture with members of the Hopi tribe.

(Photo by El Tovar Studios; courtesy of Museum of Northern Arizona Photo Archives)

According to, there are several striking things about this photograph that deserve mention. It is clear that the headdress that has been placed on Professor Einstein's head and the pipe he has been given to hold have no relationship to the Indians in this photograph. These Indians are Hopis from the relatively nearby Hopi pueblos while the headdress and pipe belong to the Plains Indian culture. The actual location of the photograph is Hopi House, a part of the Fred Harvey concession at the Grand Canyon. The studio that took the photograph was associated with the El Tovar Hotel, at the Grand Canyon. The two buildings sat side by side with Hopi House, designed by Mary Colter, being used for the display and sales of Native American crafts. Many of the crafts people hired by the Fred Harvey Company, such as Nampeyo and Fred Kabotie, are among the most highly regarded Native American artists of their generation. The Hopis in this picture were employees of the Fred Harvey Company who demonstrated their arts there and, no doubt, posed for many other pictures with tourists.

Besides Albert Einstein and his wife, there are 3 adult Hopis and one Hopi child in the photograph. Einstein is holding the hand of a young Hopi girl in a very natural manner; she is clutching something tightly in her other hand and is quite intent upon something outside the frame. Prof. Einstein's attraction to children is seen in several other unofficial photographs. He loved children and felt quite comfortable with them. The two men on the left side of the photograph were there to facilitate the Einstein's trip. The man on the left is J. B. Duffy, General Passenger Agent of the ATSF (the famous Atichson, Tokepa and Santa Fe Railroad); the other man is Herman Schweizer, Head of Fred Harvey Curio, normally stationed in Albuquerque. He may have spoken German and was therefore present because Prof. Einstein was not completely comfortable yet with English.

And according to the Einstein Almanac, the Hopi "gave Einstein a peace pipe, recognizing his pacifism, and dubbed him the 'Great Relative.'" You can see the pipe on display in the photo.

(via Open Culture)


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