On a recent visit to the Historical Society of Pennsylvania (HSP), I perused with interest an 1884 Isaac L. Williams painting showing “staff and patrons” in the HSP library at the old 820 Spruce Street location.
I thought I immediately recognized one of the staff, at the left of the painting: Witmer Stone’s father, Frederick Dawson Stone Sr. You can do the comparison yourself:
The elder Stone was the head librarian at HSP from 1877 until his death in 1897. He was an expert on early Pennsylvania history, and had an extensive private collection of George Washington-related material. Witmer Stone worked in the HSP library briefly with his father after graduating from the University of Pennsylvania in 1887, before beginning his long stint at the Academy of Natural Sciences of Philadelphia. One story has it that the father hoped his oldest son would follow him into the history field; Witmer was too obsessed with nature, however, although he was eventually considered the leading American ornithological historian of his day.
So the next time you visit HSP, look for the Williams painting (in the room immediately behind the reception desk), and picture that HSP might have looked like this if Frederick had been able to convince his bird-loving eldest to follow in his father’s occupational footsteps: