A Ghoulish Demise

Jurgen Neffe begins his biography of Einstein at the autopsy (Neffe, Einstein, p. 3-5). The hospital is in Princeton, New Jersey; the medical examiner is Thomas Harvey. Neffe describes the Y-shaped cut: “He places his scalpel behind one of the dead man’s ears and pulls it hard over the neck and thorax through the cold, pale skin down to the abdomen. Then he repeats this cut beginning with the other ear.”
Okay, I’m starting to squirm. This is Einstein we’re talking about and suddenly it seems that I, too, subscribe to some notion of his immortality.
Wait. It gets worse. It seems that this man, Thomas Harvey, decided he’d like to take a little souvenir. Oh, he’d performed autopsies on plenty of physicists. Princeton, Neffe tells us, is brimming with them, but only once before had he come in contact with Einstein. It happened he’d asked Albert for a urine sample and upon receipt of the specimen held the warm cup thinking, “This is from the greatest genius of all time.” You get the sensibility.
So, now, Harvey, M.E. decides this is his BIG chance. He cuts off Einstein’s head and scoops out the brain, holding it up before him like poor Yorick’s skull. For this, he loses his job. Imagine that. Someone notices that the headless man in the freezer has an Einstein tag on his toe.
But to Harvey it’s worth it. He has the prize! He vivisects the brain into two hundred cubes and divides them into two jars. These he carries, wrapped in rags, alternately in a beer cooler (I’m picturing the styrofoam kind with the squeaky lid) and a cardboard box which he hides in the closet of his various student apartments. For forty years he moves around the country, working in factories, hoarding the brain. Finally, right before he dies, Harvey returns it to Princeton, apparently trusting only his original employer with his treasure.

It seems like Harvey was also the name of a large rabbit.

About Nancy Pinard

Professionally-speaking, Nancy Pinard is an author-educator who spends her days writing, teaching, reading, and researching for her writing and teaching. She is the author of two published novels, Shadow Dancing and Butterfly Soup, and numerous short stories. She has taught the craft of fiction writing in many venues including Sinclair Community College, University of Dayton Life-Long Learning Institute, Antioch Writers' Workshop, Mad Anthony Writers' Workshop, and Molasses Pond Writers' Workshop. Personally, her faith is what sustains, inspires, and motivates her to continue to explore meaning through literature. "You are right in demanding that an artist approach his work consciously, but you are confusing two concepts: the solution of a problem and the correct formulation of a problem. Only the second is required of the artist." — Anton Chekov to Alexei Suvorin, October 27, 1888
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