Press Release – April 6, 2005
ALBERT EINSTEIN LETTERS COME HOME
Click on the above thumbnail to view the letter
SOUTHOLD, NY. Winter is a slow time on the North Fork of Long Island. Farmers prepare for the spring, shopkeepers go on vacation, and things in general move forward slowly. But exciting things can happen in winter.
Towards the end of the year the Southold Historical Society was able to work with one local family to bring back to Southold a collection of letters written by Albert Einstein (1879-1955). While most of these letters would return to the family, one would join the thousands of important historical documents already cared for by the Society.
This year, 2005, is the “Year of Einstein,” a commemoration of the 100th anniversary of his famous 1905 publications on Brownian Motion, Photoelectric Effect, and Special Relativity and the 50th anniversary of his death. “It is a wonderful coincidence that these important historical documents became available when they did,” stated Fleming.
The first hint of this important “cache” of letters occurred while the Society’s director, Geoffrey Fleming, was perusing recent listings on eBay, the online auction website. While looking at items relating to Southold he spotted a listing that mentioned the words “Einstein” and “letter.”
The listing was for a letter written by Einstein to his great friend, David Rothman (1896-1981). Rothman had befriended Einstein when he came to Peconic to spend the summers between 1938 and 1939. Einstein stayed at a home located on Old (West) Cove Road on Nassau Point and visited Rothman’s store in Southold in search of his elusive “sundial” sandals. He enjoyed sailing around Peconic Bay and playing with a small group of local musicians, including members of the Rothman family, that he befriended.
During the next several years Einstein and Rothman would correspond regularly, discussing boating, music, and a host of more lofty ideas. Most of the letters sent to Rothman had been dispersed years ago, and the letter on eBay was one of them.
“The collections committee discussed this letter at length and agreed it was something the Society should attempt to acquire,” stated Fleming. The letter already had several bids including one that caught Mr. Fleming’s eye. The bidder had the username “Rothguitar” which seemed very familiar to Fleming.
“I looked out our office window across the street to the windows of Rothman’s Department Store that were filled with guitars and got the feeling I knew who the bidder was,” continued Fleming. A quick phone call confirmed his suspicion. The bidder was Ron Rothman, David’s grandson.
Fleming and Rothman spoke at length about the letter. Ron explained that many of the letters had left the family before he and his siblings and cousins realized their important connection to the family and local history. He very much wanted to own one personally. Fleming and Rothman agreed not to compete for the letter, but rather work together to find out if there were more.
After contacting the seller it was discovered that there was a grouping of letters all written to David Rothman and that they were all available for sale. Rothman began contacting his family and asked if any wanted to help purchase the letters and many responded very quickly that they did.
He and Fleming then set out on agreement by which an original letter would be available for the Society to acquire and copies of the letters that were purchased by the Rothman family members would also be made accessible through the Society’s archive.
“This was a win-win situation for everybody,” stated Fleming, “Together we were able to bring one of the most important collections of Einstein letters relating to the North Fork back here and make them available for the public” he continued.
The letters are those that reveal the close friendship that has developed between David Rothman and Einstein. Covering the years 1940-44, they discuss boating, food, health, as well as some more scientific matters, including discussions concerning Dr. Elfenbein, who was stuck in Europe and very much wanted to come to America.
“Those concerning Dr. Elfenbein are extremely interesting,” stated Fleming, “They reveal a man desperate to escape a Europe controlled by the Nazi’s.” In those letters relating to Elfenbein, Einstein writes that Elfenbein is “desperate” and wishes to come to America. By 1944 Einstein had written to Rothman that he did not see “the slightest possibility under the present circumstances to help him emigrate to this country.”
The letter that the Society acquired dealt with one of Einstein’s great loves, his small boat, “Tineff.” The boat, whose name in Yiddish meant “worthless,” was Einstein’s favorite place to go and contemplate new ideas, even if that meant drifting or just plain running aground in Peconic Bay. The letter was sent from Knollwood on Saranac Lake, where Einstein had begun to go to for health reasons on the recommendation of his doctors. David Rothman helped ensure that Einstein could continue to enjoy his boat upstate by arranging the shipping of the “Tineff” to the Lake in the early summer of 1940.
Dated July 20, 1940, the letter reads “Dear Mr. Rothman: I was really touched when I received your kind gift. I feel happy indeed about your kindness and at the same time ashamed because I could not show my gratitude for all the care and connection with my boat.- I am going sailing daily with my sister and I am homesick when I think of the beautiful musical evenings. With kind regards to you, your family, and the musical friends, yours sincerely, A. Einstein.”
“With the acquisition of this letter, the return of the others to the Rothman family, and the copies of those that have now been placed in our archive, we are in a position to better understand his impact on our community and the American way of life,” stated Fleming.
The letter joins another already held by the Society that was written to local resident Reginald Donahue to thank him for photographs that Donahue had taken of Einstein in 1939. This letter and the accompanying four original, black and white photographs depicting Einstein and friends were the gift of the Estate of Reginald Donahue in 1993.
The newly acquired letter and copies of the Rothman family letters are available for viewing at the Southold Historical Society by appointment.
For further images or information, please call Geoffrey Fleming at (631) 765-5500.