John Heyn (JH) and Herman Heyn (HH)
JH: Uncle Herman, what did you think you were going to be when you grew up?
HH: 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. [laughs]
JH: How long have you been doing street corner astronomy?
HH: 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 ”the man” — for many, many years – unsuccessfully. Each time I’d start 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 13th, 1987. It 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 and 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, “Miss Wicker’s class in the eighth grade.” She drew the Big Dipper on the blackboard. Said, “Go find it.” I didn’t know if Miss Wicker was dead or alive. But she saw the article and called me up. And I was one of the eulogizers at her funeral.
JH: How would you like to be remembered?
HH: I don’t want to be remembered — Halley’s Comet comes back in 2061 and I want to be around.
But I could name people who have looked through my telescope and taken up astronomy themselves, bought their own telescopes. Somebody else said they’ve named a boat “Saturn” after looking at it through my telescope. It 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 [laughs]…yet. I’m hoping it still may.