When Albert Einstein died, he left very specific instructions about his remains. He wanted to be cremated and have his ashes scattered in secret, because he didn’t want his grave to become a shrine. In the last years of his life, he had been very concerned about the level of celebrity worship he was bombarded with, and shied away from any interviews or photographs.
Despite his wishes, a pathologist who worked at the hospital where Einstein died, stole Einstein’s brain. When he was found out, he convinced Einstein’s son to let him keep it, “in the interest of science.” The man, Thomas Harvey, cut the brain up into 240 pieces and preserved them in two jars, which he stored in his basement. When he moved, the brain went with him, even taking a long road trip in a beer cooler. Harvey would send slides to various scientists to help him unlock its secrets, but it took decades before any papers on Einstein’s brain were released.
Harvey’s conclusions were not accurate. The papers claimed things no one could know from slices of a dead brain on a slide, especially ones that had not been properly stored. The authors didn’t even seem to know that much about Einstein. For example, they said a part of his brain was larger than most people, which they said explained why he was so good at math, but Einstein was not a very good mathematician compared to his peers. It seems that Harvey and his collaborators really wanted to have something interesting to say about Einstein’s brain, and so took some liberties with their studies.
In 2011, the Mütter Museum, a medical museum in Philadelphia, received a box of Harvey’s slides. Now, you can see slices of Einstein’s brain on display along with other anatomical curiosities like the skeletons of Chang and Eng, the “Siamese twins,” and a collection of human skulls.