But Princeton has become a tourist attraction. The Orange Key groups seem more numerous and bigger; it's not unusual to see three of them running at the same time. And it was a bit of a surprise to watch five tour buses unloading on Prospect Avenue one Sunday morning. What are all these people doing, and why are they doing it when there's no one around but other tourists?
I suspect that most of them are coming because of the Princeton name and aren't really sure what to look at. If they rely on the freebie maps handed out in town, they're not going to see much; those maps have only the loosest connection with reality - Nassau Hall but none of the surrounding buildings, the library but not the chapel, the art museum but not Murray Dodge, Prospect and Frist but no Robertson or fountain.
From time to time, however, there are visitors who have more on their agenda than the tour and the art museum. On one desperately hot and muggy Sunday in mid-August, I was standing on Nassau Street waiting for the light to change so I could walk down University Place, when an elderly woman asked if I lived in Princeton. Yes, I replied, and she said, "Could you tell me where the statue of John Nash is?"
This startled me, since I had seen Prof. Nash walking across campus only two days earlier, looking quite well, and it's not the custom in this part of the world to erect statues of living people. For a brief disoriented moment all I could think of was the Seward Johnson sculpture beside the Palmer Square kiosk. Then it dawned on me - she was really asking about another famous Princeton personage, Albert Einstein. There is a bust of Einstein on the walkway that leads toward the monument in front of the Princeton Borough offices. It's not a big statue like the imposing one on Constitution Avenue in Washington, but it's definitely him. ("Newspaper Reader," another Seward Johnson piece, is on that same walkway if you ever want to check out off-campus sculptures.) I aimed her in the right direction and headed on down University Place.
Where only a few moments later, a young woman who looked like any Princeton student stopped me and said, "Are you a professor here?" Some of us apparently look the part; in any case, there didn't seem to be any harm in admitting it, and she began a series of questions. "What department are you in?" When I replied "Computer Science," it was clear that she had hoped for something better; with a politely disappointed look, she asked, "Where's the train station?" I pointed her toward the Dinky, but after a few steps she turned back and asked how she could get an internship. That's pretty random no matter what, and I told her that it would probably be tough if she weren't a student here. Disappointed again, she turned toward the train, but paused once more and said, out of the blue, "Did you know Einstein?"
So much for my self-image as the still-youthful professor. Sadly, I did not know Einstein; I was in elementary school when he died in April 1955, and I didn't even live in the same country. But as it turns out, my wife did know Einstein, sort of. She grew up in Princeton, where her father was on the faculty in the English department, and when she was about 5 years old, he took her to meet the great man. She remembers this clearly; he was incredibly kind, they talked about cats, and she got his autograph.
Occasionally I've been stopped by intrepid tourists, far off the beaten tracks of the campus and the tour groups, asking where Einstein lived. That I do know; in fact, one of my favorite long walks takes me down Mercer Street, past the house where Einstein lived for many years (including when my wife visited him). As I pass it, I wonder - what was it like to have Einstein as a neighbor? And I also sometimes wonder if anyone among us will prove so famous and influential that 50 years from now people will make pilgrimages to the places where he or she lived. There are a lot of amazing people here, so as you settle in for another year, keep your eyes open for the politician or athlete or scientist or literary giant who will never be forgotten. Who knows - if you play your cards right, it could even be you.
Brian Kernighan GS '69 is a professor in the Department of Computer Science and a Forbes faculty adviser. He can be reached at email@example.com.
Want to be a ‘Prince' columnist? E-mail firstname.lastname@example.org by Sept. 25 for details or an application.
Reader Comments (0)
No comments yet. Be the first to post your opinion on this article.