Why Is That Old Man Hanging Out with That Kid at The Museum?

The hdkrzybbef
Philadelphia Inquirer has a story about what happened when an old man started to hang out with a boy he met at the museum. Can you imagine this unfolding the same way today?

When Dave Schwartz was a boy, his father was constantly in the hospital, and his mother would drop him at the Penn Museum while she visited her husband.

Beginning in 1961, when he was 8, Schwartz spent years among the mummies, the giant sphinx, and other antiquities.

“I’m kind of a museum orphan,” he says now, at age 61. “I literally grew up in that museum.”

One day, he was tracing hieroglyphs on a 10-foot-tall Mayan limestone monument – his sketches spread all over the floor of the Mesoamerican Gallery – when an older man in a suit stopped and asked the boy what he was doing.

Schwartz replied that he had been trying to translate the symbols from books at the public library. He had more than 100 tracings.

The man was J. Alden Mason, one of the most famous archaeologists in America, then in his 70s, and curator emeritus of the Mesoamerican Gallery. Mason invited the boy back to his office, and shared his sandwich.

They became the best of friends. Many days, they ate lunch together, sometimes with a constellation of famous archaeologists including Linton Satterthwaite and Froelich Rainey. The names meant nothing to Schwartz, who was just a boy in heaven.

Read the rest of the story here. And for another story of a boy left on his own at a museum when young (today it would be “neglect”), check out this post. And remember that when we see all stranger-kid interactions as fraught with skeeviness, we are breaking a tradition older than those mummies. – L

Why would a boy hang out with someone my age?

Is it weird I like hanging out with people much younger than me? 

, , , , , , , , ,

20 Responses to Why Is That Old Man Hanging Out with That Kid at The Museum?

  1. Rick February 23, 2015 at 12:00 pm #

    Don’t you understand? Doing that would interfere with her “Common Core” curriculum studies! I think you’ve nailed it on the head: “we are breaking a tradition older than those mummies.” Isn’t that the plan being implemented?

  2. fred schueler February 23, 2015 at 12:26 pm #

    Lunch room in a museum is absolutely the best educational environment in the world. I’ve recently written, in support of the New Brunswick Museum’s planned expansion ” museum culture is based on a tradition of free sharing of specimens, resources, and data, with multi-talented workers whose positions depend on competence and willingness rather than on formal certification, sharing collegial relationships in a broadly cooperative workplace.” – – http://www.nbm-mnb.ca/images/stories/200220151.pdf

  3. Reziac February 23, 2015 at 1:06 pm #

    My only thought about this story was…


    But this used to be how many kids found their profession or their life’s work — by hanging around older adults who were doing interesting things. And adults passed on their knowledge by noticing which kids were interested in or had talents along the same lines, and picking out prospects to mentor.

    Without that, we lose a major avenue for people to find what they really want to do in life, not to mention that especially with the handicrafts, we lose the skills that oldsters would like to pass on to the next generation, but nowadays often can’t, because there’s not the level of contact with kids that there used to be.

  4. Katie February 23, 2015 at 1:08 pm #

    When I was 11 or 12, I met a retired guy who would hang around at the park/lake area near me. He bought me ice cream (there was an ice cream shop there) and we played with his dog. She was a young German Shepherd rescue who needed to be socialized so she would get along with people better. Later I’d pet sit his dog and he’d talk to me about math and science. He told me about his time in Africa in WWII — he was blown up in his tank and sent home. He walked with a limp for the rest of his life. He could sound just like an elephant. When I won a math competition, me bought me a nice pen, nicer than I ever had. He taught me about the planets and bought me a Time-Life book about math because I loved it so much. Before I moved away, he died, so I only really knew him for a year or two… but I still have the book and the pen.

    I have no idea if my parents even knew I would hang out with him.

  5. Mandy February 23, 2015 at 1:12 pm #

    My work requires me to spend a LOT of time in museums and archives. Today I can hardly get the curators in museums to catch my eye, let alone invite me to their offices. I had one archivist actually tell me that he didn’t want to seem like he was taking an “untoward interest” in me.

    I’m 25. Imagine if I were still a kid.

  6. julie5050 February 23, 2015 at 2:29 pm #

    When teachers are called into staff developments and warned not to tell a child he or she looks nice ina new outfit or that their new hair cut looks good because it could be considered “grooming” a victim it has become a sad sad world.

    My oldest use to cross through the back yard by pushing s chair against the small fence and climbing onto the neighbors air-conditioning unit. from the time she was about three-six. to have tea with the elderly Indian gentleman .. The first time I watched her doth is from the kitchen window I was shocked… But he welcomed the company and they would sit for about hour drinking tea and chatting…then he would lift her back over the fence.. he died about three months before his own first grand child was born… his daughter said how much that time with her meant to him and she felt he at least got tob e a grandfather for a little bit… My daughters still remembers stories of India he told her

  7. Warren February 23, 2015 at 2:54 pm #

    Wonderful story, but depressing at the same time. Depressing because the whole “men cannot be trusted” paranoia has made mentoring and friendships like this disappear over the years. It is a real shame.

    These days the “positive male influence” comes with conditions. Must be background checked, fingerprinted and supply a dna sample. And even then never to be alone with a child. Great times for all.

  8. Havva February 23, 2015 at 3:18 pm #

    @Reziac, I think you are on to something, and I wonder what kind of adults others attached to as children.

    I was forever questioning workmen and contractors in my neighborhood. One of the quick ways for mom to get me out the door was to mention there was work in progress near by. When I was 4 my parents added onto the house and I was all over the contractors. I got out my little shovel and dug the foundation along side them, asking along the way how to keep the sides flat and the bottom level. I watched them drill the studs and asked about the the patterns of the holes. They even let me watch them pull wiring, though they had to keep me back for lack of eye protection. And I quickly saw why that distance was needed. They let me follow them practically everywhere, that was reasonably safe, and taught me to watch out for hazards. I asked them a thousand and one questions. They did their level best to answer, even when I lacked the experience to understand, or they didn’t quite know.

    Unsurprisingly, I went into engineering. The construction environments I have since encountered have been larger, and offered greater and more varied hazards. But those first lessons have severed me well. When I got married my parents held an open house. The contractor and his lead foreman, with encouragement from the whole crew, were there. It touched me that two decades on, the experience stuck with the contractors as much as it did with me.

  9. SteveS February 23, 2015 at 3:30 pm #

    Warren, unfortunately this seems to have been going on for a while. I worked at summer camps in the late 80’s and early 90’s. The directors were already cautioning male staff about being careful and never being alone with a child.

  10. Maggie in VA February 23, 2015 at 3:48 pm #

    As someone who was a kid with a lot of emotional problems, this really resonates. I didn’t have one person who became my friend the way this archaeologist did this boy, but all the ones who did give me time or attention were one more tiny prop that kept me from oblivion. I feel so bad for kids today that perhaps most adults hesitate to become connected to kids they meet for fear of their interest being misinterpreted.

  11. Emily February 23, 2015 at 5:27 pm #

    >>Warren, unfortunately this seems to have been going on for a while. I worked at summer camps in the late 80’s and early 90’s. The directors were already cautioning male staff about being careful and never being alone with a child.<<

    @Steve and Warren–unfortunately, that applies to ALL adults who work with children now.

  12. Donald February 23, 2015 at 9:33 pm #

    …….But this used to be how many kids found their profession or their life’s work — by hanging around older adults who were doing interesting things. And adults passed on their knowledge by noticing which kids were interested in……..

    That’s in the past. In this modern world we don’t hand pass down skills. We pass down mistrust, paranoia, and xenophobia.
    Survival is paramount! Why would anyone need skills to survive?

  13. CrazyCatLady February 23, 2015 at 11:30 pm #

    My youngest will probably be a builder of some sort. When he was two, our new landlord decided to redo our house from the outside while we lived inside. My son followed him around, handed him nails, and observed him work. His favorite show was “This Old House.” I loved that our landlord was so patient with him and allowed him near when he and his men were working on the house. My son, now ten, probably doesn’t remember the landlord, but the joy of building that he inspired still lasts and my son builds some great things (projectile devices, at the moment.)

    I wish that my kids could also see their own father at work. While he was in Grad School, he often took our oldest into the lab with him where he was working. Now, years later, he works on a sight that has high security (for things other than his particular work) and we family members are not allowed without prior approval. Except for “Take Your Child to Work Day” when the company does its best to keep the kids involved in workshops away from the actual work that the parents are doing. My older son, so into chemistry and physics, would love to spend more time with him….but he is not allowed, even after hours. But, on the bright side, at least my kids have seen his office. I have only seen the outside of the building.

  14. Steve February 23, 2015 at 11:36 pm #

    The article has no picture of the daughter, Jessie Schwartz, who is 12. And she is a big part of this story.
    Do you think that was just an oversight ?

  15. Steve February 24, 2015 at 12:23 am #

    I was wrong. I went back and looked again. There “is” a photo of the daughter.

  16. KH February 24, 2015 at 12:28 am #

    The daughter is shown with her “museum mentor” in the second picture.

  17. sexhysteria February 24, 2015 at 3:28 am #

    What a great story!

  18. Jesse Bacon February 24, 2015 at 11:54 am #

    My 7 year old daughter saw a man drawing blue fairies on a plane. She went up to him and he taught her new techniques and they spoke about their craft. It was a magical moment, and that would not have happened had my parents who were traveling with her not facilitated it (and then gotten out of the way)

  19. Robert Curtis February 24, 2015 at 4:46 pm #

    If that same man was to do that today he would be charged with kidnapping and possibly much more after they interrogated the child into believing the man assaulted him. The man would forever be a convicted as a registered sex offender for his kind gestures towards this boy and the boy will have to live the rest of his life as a victim nonvictim. TRUTH

  20. gpo February 24, 2015 at 6:04 pm #

    When I was a youngster and no one was around to play with I would go hang out on the porch of a neighbor who was across and down the street a little. He was retired. He was an ex-Army Ranger. And at the time he was a semi-pro bodybuilder. We would just sit and talk about stuff. Totally nice guy. Many kids around the neighborhood would lift in his garage. Definitely a big part of my childhood.