Daniel Ellsberg was born on April 7 of 1931, during the height of the Great Depression. His parents were Harry, a structural engineer and Adele Ellsberg (nee Charsky). Adele, although raised in a Jewish home, became a devoted Christian Scientist. Despite being ethnically Ashkenazi Jew, Daniel and his younger sister Gloria, born 11 months after him, were subjected to their parents’ Christian Scientist views. The family had lived in Chicago when Daniel was born but moved to the Detroit suburb of Highland Park in 1938 after Harry got a job at a prestigious architectural firm in the city.
A Young Musician Resigns
Ellsberg played piano since he was a young child, devoting much of his young life to the practice. His mother Adele strongly encouraged him to follow a career as a concert pianist and urged him to play often. In grade school, he was exempt from half the school day to practice and on Saturdays, he often practiced 8 or more hours. His mother discouraged other interests, such as reading or socializing, in favor of Daniel training with renowned piano teachers like Margaret Mannebauch. Mannebach was known to use violence on children to get them to remember the music. Despite losing passion for the instrument following the death of his mother, he continued playing until he left for college.
The Car Accident
In the early summer of 1946, Daniel, his mother Adele, father Harry and sister Gloria set off on a road trip from Detroit to Denver to visit relatives. Harry drove all day, despite not sleeping the night before due to Adele’s refusal to drive and her rush to get there on time for a party in her honor. On the Fourth of July, Harry fell asleep at the wheel and veered the family car into a bridge. Upon impact, the right side of the car was sheared off, killing Gloria, 13, and Adele, 45. Daniel was hospitalized in serious condition and lost memory for 3 months while his father escaped with few injuries.
Early Academic Excellence
Daniel worked very hard in school and showed a great proficiency towards learning. In 1943, he was offered a scholarship to Cranbrook, an elite boys preparatory school in Bloomfield Hills, Michigan. There, he wrote for the school newspaper, played basketball, participated in debate and frequented the rifle range. He graduated in 1948 at the top of his class. On his senior year report card, his teacher wrote “The dear headmaster even years ago said: ‘Brilliant but dangerous’- but glory be to God for his ever present love and grace!”.