Our amazing story: Albert Einstein in Southold


Princeton scientist Albert Einstein rented a house on the North Fork for the summer of 1939. It was a small beach hut on Nassau Point in Southold where, at the age of 60, he felt he could enjoying the salty sea air, sailing his 15-foot sailboat over the fresh waters of Peconic Bay — he had brought it with him — and the peace and quiet of a rural community. With him came his secretary to keep his schedules and prepare his meals, and most of the time his married daughter Lieserl, who visited him and did his shopping for him. Einstein worked at least part of the day putting his theories forward on a chalkboard in the small living room of the cabin.

Einstein was one of the most famous men in the world at this time. Born in Germany and raised there and Switzerland, he had studied theoretical physics in school and, while working as a federal patent examiner in Switzerland, developed formulas advancing a whole new way of seeing the world. works, which proved that Isaac Newton’s theories were wrong. . Einstein’s new theories shocked the scientific world. It also sent him around the world. In 1921, New York City held a Fifth Avenue ticker parade in his honor.

Fleeing from Hitler’s black shirts attacking Jews in 1933, he came to America and took a post at Princeton, heading a new division called the Institute for Advanced Study.

What to do for summer vacation? In June 1939, he came to the Nassau Point Beach Hut and worked on a new unified theory that he hoped would further explain how the universe works.

In Southold, Einstein befriended David Rothman, the owner of the Rothman department store on Main Street in Southold. Einstein, a trained violinist, had learned that Rothman and several of his friends played Mozart and Beethoven in a classical string quartet at either house in the evenings twice a week. Einstein asked if he could join them and of course the answer was yes. Rothman, overjoyed to have a friendship with Einstein, kept a journal of their time together that summer.

In August, several prominent scientists, seeing that war was imminent, left New York to visit Einstein at his tiny beach house. They had written a letter to President Franklin D. Roosevelt warning him that the Germans were actively trying to build an atomic bomb. They thought America should have a laboratory to do that too and beat the Germans in the fist. But they also felt that they needed the famous Albert Einstein to sign the letter for the president to read. Einstein signed on, and subsequently he was read by the president, and so the top secret lab in Oak Ridge, Tennessee was quickly built and opened. Five years later, the lab split the atom and got the bomb before the Germans could do it.

Einstein’s visits are commemorated in Einstein Square, a small, peaceful oasis on Main Street in Southold with benches surrounding a pedestal of a bust of Einstein. It is a place, right next to the Rothman department store, where a visitor can sit and contemplate the universe and the achievements of this great man.


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