Incognito Dramaturgy & Resources

“I want to be cremated, so people don’t come to worship at my bones.” (Abraham, 2004)

During Albert Einstein’s autopsy at Princeton Hospital on April 18th, 1955, Thomas Harvey followed Einstein’s wishes exactly. Harvey sent along Einstein’s bones to be cremated. All Harvey kept was Einstein’s brain. In mason jars. The brain that gave us the theory of relativity kept in the same way my mother stores tomato sauce.

The day after the autopsy, April 19th, Harvey retroactively received permission from Hans Albert Einstein, the professor’s son, to remove Einstein’s brain, “for careful scientific study and the findings published in legitimate medical journals.” (Blitz, 2019) Five years later in 1960, however, Harvey was fired from Princeton Hospital for failing to even begin a scientific study of Einstein’s brain. During the 1960s as he opened different labs throughout New Jersey, Harvey kept the brain with him in his home office, still in mason jars. In the 1970s and 80s, Harvey moved around between Kansas and Missouri, always taking the brain with him wherever he settled. Hans Albert Einstein passed away on July 6th, 1973, never seeing the scientific study of his father’s brain Harvey promised him. In 1984, Marian Diamond, a researcher at UC Berkley, requested a sample of the brain to study. Diamond was not the first to request a piece, but she was the first to receive a piece of the brain from Harvey, and Diamond and her colleagues published the first study on Einstein’s brain in 1985, thirty years after Einstein’s death.

Harvey and the brain returned to New Jersey in 1995, and in 1997, embarked on a cross country road trip with journalist, Michael Paterniti. Paterniti records their trip in an article, later book, entitled Driving Mr. Albert: A Trip Across America with Einstein’s Brain. The two men travel through New Jersey, Ohio, Missouri, Kansas, New Mexico, Arizona, Nevada, and California with Einstein’s brain stored in Tupperware in the trunk of their Buick Skylark. Along the way, Harvey shows the brain to anyone interested and even gives a presentation to schoolkids in San Jose, who are decidedly less interested. Eleven days after the start of their trek, Harvey and Paterniti meet with Evelyn Einstein in Berkley, California. Officially, Evelyn is Einstein’s adopted granddaughter, but she could be Einstein’s biological daughter from an affair, if family stories are to be believed. Harvey offers to give a piece of her grandfather’s brain to Evelyn, but he cuts their meeting short before slicing off another section. At the end of their trip, Harvey returns to New Jersey with the brain still in his possession. Before his death on April 7th, 2007, Harvey donated the brain back to Princeton Hospital, finally ending their fifty-two-year odyssey together. As of 2013, sections of Einstein’s brain can be seen in Philadelphia’s Mutter Museum.

Why did Thomas Harvey take Einstein’s brain? Like many of the questions Nick Payne poses in Incognito, we might never have a clear answer. The characters of Incognito look to the brain throughout to understand themselves, but they still find, “there are more things in heaven and earth…than are dreamt of in (our) philosophy” (Hamlet I, v). According to Harvey, he took Einstein’s brain so a scientific study could be done, but he kept it preserved in mason jars for half a century, never publishing any work himself. 

At least Harvey didn’t keep Einstein’s bones.

Sources

Abraham, Carolyn. 2004. “‘My Dad Has Einstein’s Brain.’” The Guardian. April 8, 2004. https://www.theguardian.com/science/2004/apr/08/science.research1

Blitz, Matt. 2015. The Theft and Half Century Journey of Einstein’s Brain. Today I Found Out. January 30, 2015. https://www.todayifoundout.com/index.php/2015/01/theft-fifty-year-journey-einsteins-brain/.

Ishak, Natasha. 2019. Albert Einstein’s Granddaughter, Evelyn Einstein, Was Once so Poor She Had to Dumpster Dive. Edited by John Kuroski. All That’s Interesting. July 15, 2019. https://allthatsinteresting.com/evelyn-einstein.

Paterniti, Michael. 1997. Driving Mr. Albert: A Trip across America with Einstein’s Brain. Harper’s Magazine, October 1997. https://www.vanderbilt.edu/olli/class-materials/Driving_Mr_Albert.pdf.

‌“Thomas Harvey Obituary (2007) – Trenton, NJ – ‘the Times, Trenton,.’” n.d. Obits.nj.com. Accessed March 10, 2022. https://obits.nj.com/amp/obituaries/trenton/87161294.

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