In Response to: A Cicada Reunion

When I sat down to read PAW’s June cover story about this year’s 17-year cicadas, my first impression was, “This is a great writer!” It was no surprise, then, to look up and see Elyse Graham ’07’s name below the title. Two of Ms. Graham’s previous articles in PAW told of mathematician and visionary Oswald Veblen’s leading roles in creating the physical and social community on campus known as Old Fine Hall and finding safe haven and employment in the U.S. for European scholars displaced by the Nazis in the 1930s. Though Veblen, who was featured in President Eisgruber ’83’s 2020 State of the University report, cannot be credited with bringing periodical cicadas to Princeton, he was instrumental in attracting the subject of the previous month’s PAW cover story, Albert Einstein, who became the Institute for Advanced Study’s second faculty member after Veblen. 

Counting back by 17, one soon arrives at 1936, the year Veblen bought a farm cottage on the ridge in eastern Princeton. Woodland (read “cicada habitat”) slowly grew up around that cottage, which Veblen used as a study. Often visited by Einstein and other friends, and the place Veblen chose to have his ashes buried, it can be seen as the birthplace of Princeton’s open-space movement. The Veblens donated it, along with 80 acres, in 1957 to form Princeton’s first nature preserve, Herrontown Woods. Many people discovered Herrontown Woods during the pandemic, and it seems fitting that the cicadas also rose to sing in that year of such wonderful beginnings.

Editor’s note: The letter writer is president of the Friends of Herrontown Woods. More information about Veblen’s house is available at

Steve Hiltner p’17
Princeton, N.J.