StoryCorps: Stargazing From The Street Corner, Telescope And Hat In Hand Herman Heyn has stood on a Baltimore street corner with a telescope almost nightly for 27 years. He does it for tips, for love of the stars — and for the hope he may inspire the same love in others.

Stargazing From The Street Corner, Telescope And Hat In Hand

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STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

And it's Friday when we hear from StoryCorps. If you've ever visited Fells Point in Baltimore, you may have noticed an older man with a telescope. That's 84-year-old Herman Heyn, Baltimore's street-corner astronomer and self-proclaimed star hustler. Almost every night, he sets up in the same place and gives passersby the chance to peer at the stars. It's free to look, although Herman does accept tips, which have helped him manage a modest living for decades. He sat down for StoryCorps with his nephew, John.

JOHN HEYN: Uncle Herman, what did you think you were going to be when you grew up?

HERMAN HEYN: I wanted to be a scientist, but I have certain kinds of learning disabilities. My mother used to say, you can spell Andromeda, but you can't spell anything they want you to do in school. I don't know. Some people like trees. Some people like birds. For me, it was stars.

J. HEYN: How long have you been doing street-corner astronomy?

H. HEYN: I just finished my 27th year. I've been out on the street 2,637 times. It's like being on a Broadway show that has a long run. I had been working for, quote, unquote, "the man" for many, many years unsuccessfully. Each time I started a new job, I'd say I'm going to stay with it, get benefits, get retirement. But three years later, I couldn't stand it anymore. I had to get out of there and got another job.

And Friday night, November 13, 1987, there was a really beautiful evening. The moon was up. And I decided, heck, I'm going to take my telescope on the street and invite people to look at the moon and Jupiter. And as I was walking out the door, I said, I'll take a hat with me and see what happens. That first night, I made $10. And I went back the next night, made $40. And that's how it started.

Back in 1997, a local writer wrote about my being a star hustler on the street. One of the questions was, how did you get started in astronomy? And I said, Ms. Wicker's class in the eighth grade. She drew the Big Dipper on the blackboard, said, go find it. I didn't know if Ms. Wicker was dead or alive, but she saw the article and called me up. And I was one of the eulogizers at her funeral.

J. HEYN: How would you like to be remembered?

H. HEYN: I don't want to be remembered. Halley's comet comes back in 2061, and I want to be around. But I can name people who have looked through my telescope and taken up astronomy themselves, bought their own telescopes. Somebody else said they named a boat Saturn after looking at it through my telescope. Makes me feel it's worthwhile what I'm doing, that I'm doing a good thing. And over the years, I've been hoping that somebody would come along and say I got my Ph.D. in astronomy having first looked through your telescope. But it hasn't happened - yet. I'm hoping it still may.

INSKEEP: Doesn't want to be remembered, will be now. Herman Heyn with his nephew, John, at StoryCorps. The conversation will be archived at the Library of Congress, and the podcast is on iTunes and at npr.org.

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