Looking for Einstein
Many years ago, my husband Bob would tell visitors that Albert Einstein may have (or had, depending on the amount of vodka he consumed during happy hour) spent several summers renting our home on the North Fork of Long Island. This would have been in the late 1930’s, about 45 years before I bought this house. It was here on Nassau Point, in the town of Cutchogue on the North Fork of Long Island, that Einstein met with fellow scientists and signed the now famous letter to President Roosevelt late in the summer of 1939. This was the letter that alerted Roosevelt to the potential of nuclear weapons and provided the impetus for what several years later became known as the Manhattan Project.
At the time of our story telling, we clearly had not done our homework. We had heard that Einstein had lived on Old Cove Road and that the entry to his rental house was through a screened in porch. We lived near a private road that, according to old maps, used to be called Old Cove Road and our house had an entry way through a porch. We also knew that Einstein had a small sailboat which he took out on Horseshoe Cove, a small, protected cove on Peconic Bay that can be accessed via a right of way from Old Cove Road. This was all we needed or wanted to know and thus began our short lived attempt to impress guests and friends with our connection to Einstein. At one point, Bob thought it would be fun to carve the initials “A. E.” on one of the old pieces of furniture which the previous owners of our house left behind and provide proof that Einstein had really summered in our house. Actually, I think we were looking for more than a way to gain “collateral” celebrity through a very distant association with a famous individual. I think we also hoped that some part of Einstein might have been left behind, perhaps DNA embedded in the walls from an errant sneeze, that would surreptitiously enter our bodies and somehow imbue us with a particle of his intellect.
I don’t remember exactly what or when it happened but a short time later we must have seen an article in the local paper that clearly identified the house that Einstein actually rented. It is on West Cove Road which also used to be known as Old Cove Road and it has a porch covering the entire front of the house. It has a commanding view of the bay and a shortcut to Horseshoe Cove through a neighbor’s yard. At the time Einstein rented the house, Cutchogue was referred to as Peconic which today is the town further to the east of us. And to cause even a bit more confusion, in the letter to Roosevelt, the return address is shown as “West Grove Road”. Einstein was brilliant but perhaps not the best speller.
Our love affair with all things Einstein continues to the present. This year, at the beginning of winter, our nephew Robert sent us a copy of a photo we knew well showing Einstein and David Rothman sitting on a large rock on the beach at Horseshoe Cove. This photo was taken in the summer of 1939. Mr. Rothman, the owner of a general store in the town of Southold which is still in business today, is dressed in a suit, tie and what look like leather shoes, while Einstein, hair blowing wildly in all directions, wore shorts (rather short), a short sleeved shirt and a pair of sandals, ladies’ sandals to be exact. Einstein had met Rothman when he went into his store, looking for “sundals” and after a few minutes of confused discussion around “sundials”, it appears that all Mr. Rothman had available at the time were the ladies’ version.
In the photo, the scenery behind Rothman and Einstein doesn’t appear to have changed much in the last 76 years. Behind them to the left, across the bay, is the beginning of the town of New Suffolk and to the right, several houses that dot the shoreline of Cutchogue. The sun is shining and it appears that the two men are enjoying their conversation. Einstein looks very relaxed and the photo shows us something else surprising about him – his legs: long, slim, with no visible hair and rather shapely.
Later, when winter was in full force, Bob and I decided to find Einstein’s rock in the photo. We walked down a right of way about 500 feet to the beach at Horseshoe Cove. Much of the bay was already frozen and large sheets of ice covered a good part of the beach. We turned left from the right of way and noticed some large rocks there, but not as large or level as Einstein’s. We then turned to the right, walked about 1000 feet, crossed the steps of three docks and there it was, the grand rock in the picture jutting out from the ice and snow. Given the icy conditions, we didn’t try to recreate the Einstein and Rothman pose, but were satisfied that we had found the rock we had seen in pictures so many times before.
One other connection to Einstein occurred last spring when one of the waterfront houses overlooking Horseshoe Cove was sold. The new owner is the son of one of the local brothers, who, when youngsters, would get in their boat and rescue Einstein whenever he fell asleep in his small sailboat and drift away, way past Horseshoe Cove, into Peconic Bay. Evidently this happened quite often during the summer of ’39.
So, this is our very tenuous connection to Einstein. He didn’t live in our house as we had so fervently wished, but we do walk on the same beach where he walked, touch the same rock that he touched and have almost the same beautiful view of the bay and the surrounding landscape that he had so many years before. And frankly, this is good enough for us.