The Feynman Stamp


May 11, 2005

In 1993, friends (in spirit and in deed) of Richard Feynman began an effort to see his life and his work commemorated with a postage stamp issued in his honor. This effort was kicked off by Friends of Tuva, but before over the next 12 years many people, some well-known and some not, would lend a hand to make the stamp a reality. Thank you to all who lent a hand in the effort of making this stamp issue a reality. Your cards and letters were greatly appreciated!

On August 14, 2004 (Tuvan Independence Day), the USPS (United States Postal Service) announced that their 2005 stamp program would include a special commemorative stamp honoring Richard Feynman. This stamp was to be part of a special issue commemorating four American scientists, as seen in the image at the top of this page. The stamps were dedicated in a special ceremony on May 4, 2005, at Yale University in New Haven, CT. Following this event honoring all four scientists, there were a number of events dedicated to Richard Feynman.

May 11, 2005 – AM

On Richard Feynman’s birthday, May 11, 2005, the Far Rockaway Post Office played host to a special “second day” unveiling of the Feynman stamp. Far Rockaway is, of course, the New York City neighborhood where Richard Feynman grew up in the 1920’s and 1930’s, attending Far Rockaway High School (graduating in 1935) and living on Cornaga Avenue (although it was named New Broadway at the time). The stamp dedication ceremony was hosted by the Far Rockaway Postmaster, George Buonocore, along with the Far Rockaway Post Office’s Customer Relations Coordinator, Scott Klein. The event attracted guests from the local area (including some physics students from Far Rockaway High School) as well as from neighboring states and as far away as Massachusetts, Texas, California, and Canada. One guest had actually attended high school with Feynman. Guests of honor were members of Feynman’s family including his children, his grandchildren, his sister, and several other relatives.

After the family unveiled the stamp by dramatically lifting a curtain from a large blow-up of the stamp, Feynman’s old drumming partners brought out their bongos and played as they had so many times in the past with Feynman. In the 1960’s and 1970’s, Tom Rutishauser and Ralph Leighton would get together with Feynman to drum as a trio, and on this occasion the music of the duo summoned forth their missing partner, in spirit at least.

Tom Rutishauser and Ralph Leighton drumming to bring forth the spirit of Richard Feynman.  Photo by Friends of Tuva.

The sounds of the drums lured Richard Feynman forth to chat with those in attendance. Actor Norman Parker reprised the role he had originated in his one man play “Feynman Lives!”, based on the writing of Richard Feynman. Parker portrayed Feynman, casually telling a few stories, and generally charming the audience before he took his leave and was drummed “off stage” by Rutishauser and Leighton. The effect was wonderful; intellectually you knew that this was not Feynman speaking, but because they were his words and his story so skillfully presented, it was easy to suspend disbelief and accept Mr. Parker as Feynman telling the story. The stories told at this event were “He Fixes Radios By Thinking” and “Who The Hell Is Herman?”.

Actor Norman Parker as Richard Feynman, telling a few stories.  Photo by Friends of Tuva.

There were a few more stories to be shared, though, as Feynman’s sister Joan and his cousin Frances Lewin graciously shared their memories of living in Far Rockaway with their brother and cousin. They first told tales of a young Richard continually drumming on doorways and tabletops, driving his mother mad. We were also given the background of young Richard collecting stamps brought home by his father and discovering the odd triangular stamps from Tannu Tuva. These stamps would, decades later, serve as the inspiration for his question “whatever happened to Tannu Tuva?” and the flurry of interest that would eventually grow out of attempts to find the answer.

Friends of Tuva co-founder Ralph Leighton with Dr. Joan Feynman. Leighton was the catalyst both for the stamp dedication event in Far Rockaway as well as for the creation of the stamp itself. Click to enlarge image. Photo by Friends of Tuva.

The morning’s events were not complete, though, until everyone in attendance left the Post Office and walked on the roadway, temporarily blocked off to traffic by the police officers of the 101 Precinct, one block to the corner of Mott and Cornaga Avenues. At this corner, family members unveiled a new street sign renaming a portion of Cornaga Avenue to be “Richard Feynman Way”.

Feynman Way in Far Rockaway. Photo by Allen Morris.

After the street renaming, attendees were welcomed back to the Post Office for refreshments, including a cake decorated by Russell Targrove of Forest Hills, NY. Targrove had also lead the singing of the national anthem to open the stamp dedication ceremony; he is obviously a man of many talents!

“Happy Birthday” cake featuring the Richard Feynman stamp. Photo by Allen Morris.

May 11, 2005 – PM

Late in the afternoon, Brookhaven National Laboratory sponsored a “Celebration of Richard Feynman” to commemorate the release of the American scientist stamps. The designer of all four stamps, Victor Stabin, gave a very interesting and informative talk about designing the stamps. This was followed by Tom Rutishauser and Ralph Leighton drumming for the audience and reminiscing about the fun they had with Feynman.

Rutishauser and Leighton drumming at Brookhaven National Labs. Photo courtesy of Peter Steinberg.

Norman Parker again portrayed Feynman and gave a longer performance than he had given in the morning. Along with the stories he had told in the morning, Parker gave a moving presentation of the tale of Richard’s and Arlene’s love for each other. Parker’s interpretation of the “Monster Minds” story of Feynman’s first big seminar as a graduate student at Princeton was also a crowd pleaser with lots of laughs.

Norman Parker as Richard Feynman at Brookhaven. Photo courtesy of Peter Steinberg.

The presentation ended with a few memories from an audience member who had attended Feynman’s Physics X lectures at Caltech in the late 1960’s, and who had brought his Caltech jacket from that era for the evening. After the performances, audience and performers alike enjoyed a light snack and refreshments in the auditorium’s lobby.

May 12, 2005 – PM

Thursday afternoon, Leighton, Rutishauser, and Parker performed for almost 200 of the students and faculty of the Collegiate School in Manhattan. The stories told were “Fixing Radios” and “Monster Minds“. Before the assembly, the performers joined a group of students and faculty members for an intimate lunch where the group spoke about Feynman, Tuva, and other related topics.

May 12, 2005 – Evening

Thursday evening saw the group reprising their performance for the final time in this series of shows. This time the venue was the stunning theatre in the Rubin Museum of Art, an art museum (no surprise there!) dedicated to the art of the Himalayas. It was a real thrill to see the trio at work and play here as they really seemed to hit their stride and gave their most spirited drumming and the most nuanced playing by Parker. Perhaps the atmosphere in the venue helped, but Parker seemed to shine just a little more at this performance.

The live performance was followed by a screening of Genghis Blues. This 1999 film about Kongar-ol Ondar and Paul Pena was nominated for an Oscar as the best feature-length documentary and won numerous other awards.