When you walk up the majestic steps at 42nd Street and Fifth Avenue, pass “Patience” and “Fortitude” – the iconic library lions – you enter the legendary main branch of the New York Public Library (“NYPL”). Free to enter and explore, this often-overlooked museum is a refuge for New Yorkers who need a quiet place to read, think or just be. For the past 105 years, millions of people have marveled over the wonders of the library’s architectural magnificence and gleaned inspiration from its trove of resources.
When you do visit the NY Public Library be sure to take a few moments en route and look down (a real indulgence in our head-spinning-upward city!) on the pavement on 41st Street between Park and Fifth Avenue. There you will find 44 beautifully sculpted bronze plaques with inspirational literary quotes and whimsical illustrations – named “Library Way“, it is our city’s homage to the world’s greatest literature.
THE LIBRARY LIONS
The marble lions proudly guarding the New York Public Library at Fifth Avenue are named” Patience” and “Fortitude”. Often called New York’s most lovable public sculptures, the lions have witnessed countless parades and been adorned with holly wreaths during the winter holidays and magnificent floral wreaths in springtime. They have been photographed alongside countless tourists, replicated as bookends, caricatured in cartoons and illustrated in numerous children’s books. One of the lions even served as a hiding place for the Cowardly Lion in the motion picture The Wiz. Their nicknames have changed over the decades but in the 1930’s, Mayor Fiorello La Guardia gave them their present names in honor of the qualities New Yorkers possessed and would need to survive the economic depression. As a tribute to the lions’ popularity and symbolism, the library trademarked these figures as their official logo.
ROSE MAIN READING ROOM
One of New York City’s most iconic locations, the majestic Rose Reading Room runs almost the length of two city blocks. It’s 52- foot-tall ceilings display murals of vibrant skies and billowing clouds. Here visitors can browse and read thousands of reference volumes lining the shelves. For more than 100 years, this room has supported many writers, journalists, historians, Nobel Laureates, and Pulitzer Prize winners, as well as inventors, activists, and students in gathering information and advancing knowledge.
Wondering what to serve at your next dinner party? With the explosion of the foodie culture across New York researchers have discovered the impressive historical menu collection in the archives of the NYPL. With approximately 45,000 menus dating from the 1840’s to the present, the NYPL’s restaurant menu collection is one of the largest in the world, used by historians, chefs, novelists and everyday food enthusiasts.
THE ORIGINAL WINNIE-THE-POOH DOLLS ARE AT THE LIBRARY
After more than a year of repairs and restoration, Winnie the Pooh and his pals, Eeyore, Kenga, Piglet and Tigger are on back on permanent display at the library. Once owned by Christopher Robin Milne, son of author A.A. Milie and inspiration for the beloved “Winnie the Pooh” childhood classics, the cherished stuffed animals date back to the 1920’s and have been on display at the library since they were donated in the 1980’s. These whimsical characters are enormously popular with the nearly 300,000 people who visit the Children’s Room at the library each year.
ARE YOU A MAP LOVER?
I recently went to the Map Room in search of (what else?!) a map of Greenwich Village. I became so engrossed in poring over the multitude of riches that this room holds that the hours flew by and I lost all track of time. Officially called “The Lionel Pincus and Princess Firyal Map Division”, this ornate beaux arts room holds one of the most impressive collections in the world containing over 433,000 sheet maps, 20,000 books and atlases spanning time from the 15th century to the present.
FUN FACTS ABOUT THE LIBRARY
Books are not the only special feature at the library. Some of the most beloved films of the past fifty years have used its exquisite interiors as backdrops. “Breakfast at Tiffany’s”, “The Thomas Crown Affair”, “Ghostbusters”, and Carrie Bradshaw’s ill-fated wedding from “Sex in the City” were all shot here.
The NYPL is also one of New York’s most beautiful public art galleries. In the first floor periodical room you can see murals of classic New York publishing houses including Hearst and the New York Times. The third floor hallways are home to murals illustrating the history of the written word from Prometheus to Moses among the ancient scribes and on up through the 1930’s.
Though no longer operating, the extraordinarily decorative original water fountains are still intact and can be found throughout the library.
Marriage proposals are a common event at the library, either planned with the NYPL staff ( there is actually an office to help plan engagements) – or impromptu. Say yes!
The next time you walk through Bryant Park, think about this: just six feet from where you stand, lies a world encompassing 40 miles of library stacks shelving 1.5 million books and 500,000 microfilm.
LITTLE SHOP OF TREASURES
Don’t leave the library without checking out the library shop. You will find a wide range of book-related items for adults and children, toys, quirky gifts, fun souvenirs, fashion accessories and an exclusive collection of New York Public Library quote-inspired designs. It’s September so get a jump on your holiday shopping!!!