Princeton emeriti – Because of the introductions made available by attending the Ethical Culture Society‘s Encampment for Citizenship, one of the strangest encounters of my life occurred. I was hitchhiking back to my college in Pullman, Washington, and had an offer to visit with J. Robert Oppenheimer in Princeton, New Jersey. My final ride up to the steps of the Institute for Advanced Study just happened to be in an ice cream cart. (40.3316, -74.6680)
Image from World Kings org
It was Sunday, about noon when the cart drove away and I was standing alone on the steps of an old brick building where the most famous scientists of the world worked. But it was Sunday and no one was to be seen. Absolutely no one! It was eerie and reminded me of going to visit the Wizard of Oz.
I knocked on the front door of this old building … several times. After a while, a person answered the door whom I thought I recognized from a picture in Life Magazine. I asked to see Dr. Oppenheimer. He said, rather coldly, Oppenheimer wasn’t there, pointed me to a phone and departed off into the unlit gloom.
Then I was alone in this large foyer room of a very empty and very famous building, having just talked to some unknown famous person and about to phone the most famous scientist in the world. The irony of me being there, a simpleton teenager from a small cow college in the West, was not totally lost on me.
I phoned the number listed beside the wall phone for Oppenheimer, said who I was, and he gave me his address. I stepped out the door and was standing on the steps wondering how to go there when a Cadillac drove up and a beautiful young lady asked me where I wanted to go and I gave her the address. She didn’t know where it was and I said Dr. Oppenheimer’s home. She knew where that was, and we were there in a couple of minutes.
And then things got even weirder.