While searching for the graves of long-lost relatives in the Princeton Cemetery earlier this year, I was amused to spot the epitaph of William Hahn, who is perhaps best known for these last, now oft-imitated, words. But I was even more intrigued by the postscripts on the back of two tombstones:
In case you can’t make out the weathered words, his marker says, “Outside a lion/Inside a dove/Science was his passion/People were his love.” His wife’s is more succinct: “She had a good time.” (Not to be outdone, Joan Rivers is reported to have requested “She had a great time” on her tombstone.)
As I pored over a brochure I’d grabbed at the front gate, I was struck by how many eminent scientists and mathematicians had been laid to rest in this sylvan burial ground, which dates from 1757. Here are the top nine brainiacs buried here according to a helpful alphabetized, numbered key to a map of the graves:
12. GEORGE H. GALLUP (1901-1984) was a distinguished statistician and journalist whose pioneering work in public-opinion and market research set new standards. He founded the American Institute of Public Opinion in 1935, and he is especially remembered for his Gallup Poll of the American electorate.
13. KURT GÖDEL (1906-1978), a world-class mathematician famous for a vast array of major contributions to logic, was a longtime professor at the Institute for Advanced Study, founded in 1930. He was a corecipient of the Einstein Award in 1951.
15. ARNOLD HENRY GUYOT (1807-1884), a professor of physical geography and geology for thirty years at the College, studied the structure and movement of glaciers and initiated the scientific presentation of geography. He managed the meteorological department of the Smithsonian Institution, and his methodology for weather observation still stands.
18. CHRISTINE MOORE HOWELL (1899-1972) was the first African American to graduate from Princeton High School. She studied chemistry in Paris and operated a highly successful hairdressing business with a wide clientele in her father’s buildings at 4, 6, and 10 Spring Street.
42. LYMAN SPITZER, JR. (1914-1997), a professor of astronomy at the University for thirty-five years and director of its observatory, is known for his diverse and important contributions to plasma physics and space exploration. In 1951 he started Project Matterhorn, which became the Plasma Physics Laboratory in 1961, at the University’s Forrestal Research Center.
50. JOHN VON NEUMANN (1903-1957) was a world-famous mathematician who contributed enormously to the fields of computer science, game theory, and theoretical physics. He was a professor at both the University and the Institute for Advanced Study.
53. CANVASS WHITE (1790-1834), the inventor of waterproof concrete, helped design the Erie Canal as well as several other major ones. In addition, he was chief engineer for construction of the Delaware & Raritan Canal and the Lehigh Canal.
54. THOMAS WIGGINS (1731?-1801) was a physician whose bequest significantly enlarged the Cemetery. The large, old elm behind his grave has partially encircled several monuments belonging to his relatives and is one of the finest trees standing in the Cemetery. Great efforts are continually being made to prevent Dutch elm disease from destroying this historic tree.
55. EUGENE PAUL WIGNER (1902-1995) was a professor of theoretical physics for thirty-three years at the University. He shared the Nobel Prize for physics in 1963 for his principles governing the interactions of atomic nuclear particles.
These folks are in good company. Other bigwigs six feet under here include Aaron Burr, Sr, John O’Hara, and Grover Cleveland. Curiously, Princeton’s most famous scientist, Albert Einstein, is not to be found here — or in any graveyard. After he died of a brain aneurysm at the age of 76 on April 18, 1955, his body was cremated that day and his ashes scattered following a simple ceremony in an undisclosed place, per his last wishes. How’s that for trick or treat?