New York Public Library
The lavish, 1911 Beaux-Arts New York Public Library (5th Ave., between 40th and 42nd Sts., 917/275-6975, www.nypl.org, 10 a.m.–6 p.m. Mon. and Thurs.–Sat., 10 a.m.–9 p.m. Tues.–Wed., 1–5 p.m. Sun.), designed by Carrere & Hastings, houses one of the world’s top five research libraries. The library’s collection of over nine million books and 21 million other objects occupies some 88 miles of shelves above ground and 84 miles below.
The library’s grand entrance hall is flanked by sweeping staircases, while just beyond lies Gottesman Hall (212/869-8089), where exhibits on such subjects as illustrator Charles Addams or photographer Berenice Abbott are displayed.
On the 3rd floor is the Main Reading Room, big as a football field and sumptuous as the lobby of a luxury hotel. Books are ordered via a pneumatic tube system that sucks call slips down into the bowels of the stacks.
It was in the library’s Map Room that the U.S. Army planned the invasion of North Africa during World War II, and in the library’s Science and Technology Room that Chester Carlson invented Xerox and Edwin Land invented the Polaroid camera.
The stone lions lounging outside the New York Public Library were originally named “Leo Astor” and “Leo Lenox,” after the library’s founders John Jacob Astor and James Lenox. In the 1930s, Mayor La Guardia dubbed the felines “Patience” and “Fortitude”—qualities he felt New York would need to survive the Depression. A popular saying of that time had it that the lions roared whenever a virgin passed by, but no one’s mentioned that bit of folklore in years.
Free tours of the New York Public Library are given Tuesday–Saturday at 11 a.m. and 2 p.m.
© Avalon Travel and Sascha Zuger from Moon New York State, 5th Edition