Albert Einstein died 55 years ago today, on April 18, 1955. For all celebrity he received during his life, his funeral and cremation were intensely private affairs, and only one photographer was there: Life magazine’s Ralph Morse. However, Einstein’s family requested that its privacy be respected, Life never published the pictures, aside from the famous photo above of Einstein’s empty office.
Morse remembers: “I grabbed my cameras and drove the ninety miles to Princeton. Einstein died at the Princeton Hospital, so I headed there first. But it was chaos — so many journalists, photographers, onlookers milling around outside what, back then, was a really small hospital. ‘Forget this,’ I said, and headed over to the building where Einstein’s office was. On the way there, I stopped and bought a case of scotch. I knew people might be reluctant to talk to me, and I knew that most people were happy to accept a bottle of scotch instead of money if you offered it in exchange for their help. So, I get to the building and nobody’s there. I find the superintendent, give him a fifth of scotch, and he opens up Einstein’s office so I can take some photos.”
For 55 years Morse’s photographs lay unseen and forgotten until they were published this morning online.