Where strange fact and stranger fiction collide
Albert Einstein is regarded by many as the smartest man who ever lived. His name is synonymous with intelligence. He is the Mick Jagger of mathematicians. But what happened to his brain after his death is an odyssey in to the absurd.
Einstein died of natural causes on April 17th 1955 in the Princeton Hospital.(1) The pathologist on duty, when that momentous event occurred was named Thomas Harvey. It is generally accepted that Einstein and his family had requested that his brain with the rest of his body be cremated. Dr. Harvey however couldn’t bring himself to allow something that could possibly unlock the nature of genius be destroyed so he walked out with the famous scientist’s brain (and apparently his eyeballs, which for some bazaar reason he gave to Einstein’s eye doctor.) inside his lunch box. (2)
Once the theft was discovered it understandably created a public outcry. Harvey refused to give up his souvenir, and a potential legal show down was averted when Hans Einstein, Albert’s son consented to allow Harvey to do further research on the brain. The problem was that Harvey was a Pathologist not a neuroscientist. And didn’t really have access to the type of equipment that was required to perform a through and scientific study the great man’s brain. And he defiantly didn’t have the proper tools lying around on his kitchen table where most of his research was conducted.
Also any dead meat be it the brain of a scientist or a pound of old hamburger begins to rot after a while. So Harvey calls up a friend for some embalming hints and attempts to preserve the brain by injecting a 11.4% formalin solution through the internal carotid arteries and then after that suspended the intact brain in 10% formalin fluid. Harvey then photographed the brain from many angles. We are unsure if his motivations were to be through in his scientific study or if it was for his own future self aggrandizement. He then dissected it into about 240 blocks (each about 1 cm3) and encased the segments in a plastic-like material called collodion.
The fact that his family gave retroactive consent to Harvey’s filching of Einstein’s brain, temporarily created a truce between him and his employers. But eventually he was fired from his job because he didn’t make good on his promise to publish a paper on Einstein’s Brain. (4)
After his divorce Harvey would become a drifter and go through a series of medical job’s and relationships/marriages. Apparently claiming to have Einstein’s brain in a mason jar on your cupboard’s shelf is a great pick up line, but actually having Einstein’s brain in a mason jar on your cupboard’s shelf plays havoc on your domestic life. Finally he would lose his medical license and be forced to take a job at a plastic factory. (5)
In 1997 Harvey and freelanced journalist Michael Paterniti, took of on a cross country road trip to met Ernestine’s granddaughter, with Einstein’s brain in the trunk of Paterniti’s Buick Skylark. Harvey was thinking about giving the woman her grandfather’s brain, but well she wasn’t really all that crazy about the idea, so in the end Harvey returned to the scene of the crime all those years ago, the pathology lab in Princeton Hospital and returned the dissected brain to the new M.E. who held his old job. (6)
In 1994 when the whereabouts of Einstein’s brains were still in question, documentary film maker Kevin Hull made a movie chronicling Dr. Kenji Sugamoto’s attempt to discover the wear about of the man who taught him about “…Science and love…” (7)
The movie is so over top that Swiss academic deemed Michael Hagner deemed it a hoax (8) Understandably so, Dr. Sugamoto with his unkempt hair, looks like a combination of Heroes’ Hiro Nakamura and History Channel’s Ancient Aliens talking head Giorgio Tsoukalo. He rhythmically shifts his waight from his left to right leg as if in a hypnotized awe as he stares at Einstein’s portrait in stain glass at the National Cathedral, and his almost zombie-like obsession when he goes up to total strangers declares in pidgin English “…I want to see Einstein’s brain… I want to see Einstein’s brain…” seemingly transform the man in to a caricature.
When Michael Hagner was assured by colleges that Sugamoto was actually a real person, he was force to proclaim Nichts ist absurder als die Realität or Truth is in fact stranger than fiction. (9)
2) Dark Matter: 2011 The Science Channel
4) Relics: Einstein Brains. (Ken Hall 1994) Season 1 Episode 2
5) Dark Matter 2011 The Science Channel
7) Relics Einstein Brains. (Ken Hull 1994), Season 1, Episode 2