Family Fined $750K for Fire That Burned Einstein Papers

Wildfire started by fire in metal barrel burned 48K acres in addition to papers
By Sarah Whitmire,  Newser Staff
Posted Jul 6, 2011 12:03 PM CDT
Family Fined $750K for Fire That Burned Einstein Papers
A detail from Albert Einstein's General Theory of Relativity which is on display in its entirety for the first time, at the Israeli Academy of Sciences and Humanities in Jerusalem, Israel.   (Getty Images)

(Newser) – It’s safe to say that Margaret Pavese had no idea she would start a wildfire nearly twice the size of San Francisco when she left a trash fire burning in a metal barrel in 2007—a California wildfire that also burned rare papers written by Albert Einstein, the San Jose Mercury News reports. A jury found Pavese, her husband, and father-in-law guilty of negligence last week and ordered them to pay Dan Straus $750,000 for the loss of his documents. The papers were given to Straus' father, a mathematician who worked with Einstein, and included hand-written calculations on onionskin and an envelope.

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"I’d much rather have those papers," Straus said. "But there has been justice." Straus has a single Einstein document left, which he had kept separate from the others: a handwritten poem Einstein penned to congratulate his parents on his 1954 birth. "This is what I wish: Let Daniel be like his father, thoroughly intelligent and not less joyous. Yours, A. Einstein." It's now kept in a bank vault. Pavese's father-in-law's attorney plans to seek a new trial, calling the award excessive. Pavese, a former school teacher, has already paid $200,000 to victims whose homes were damaged. (Read more Albert Einstein stories.)

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