Facets of Linus Pauling: “Of What Cult are You the Swami?”

[Ed Note: This is the first in an occasional series drawing on the “Facets” section of Linus Pauling: Scientist and Peacemaker, now available in paperback from the Oregon State University Press.]

Linus Pauling, 1935

Linus Pauling, 1935.

“Pauling became Chairman of Chemistry and Chemical Engineering at Caltech in 1936. He looked so young that Ava Helen suggested that he grow a beard. One day Pauling was walking in Los Angeles when a distinguished elderly gentleman stopped him to ask, ‘Of what cult are you the Swami?’ Linus and the man discovered a mutual interest in polyhedra.

“It was on a transcontinental train that Linus and Ava Helen were riding when he decided to visit the train’s barber for a haircut and to have the beard shaved off.

Ever conscious of his image as seen by others, he returned to his seat by Ava Helen and pretended to make advances which sprained the eyebrows of several other passengers who were saying ‘Just wait ’til the guy with the beard comes back.'”

Ava Helen and Linus Pauling. 1933.

Ava Helen and Linus Pauling. 1933.

(William Lipscomb, 1995. Extracted from a talk titled “Reflections,” the video of which is available on the OSU Libraries Special Collections website.)

It is worth noting that Pauling saved a sample of his beard clippings and that they remain preserved today, cataloged as item 2.010.53g in the Pauling Personal Safe.

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