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7 Secrets of the Main Branch of the New York Public Library

February 10, 2017 - by Chelsey Grasso
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The main branch of the New York Public Library is one of the city’s most iconic buildings. It represents a space of learning, research, and education in Manhattan’s ever-adapting landscape. Visitors come from all over the world to take photos with its famed marble lion sculptures and to lay their eyes on the grandiose and picturesque Rose Room ceilings, but the NYPL actually has quite a few secrets that you may not have known about. (First off is its name: it's officially the Stephen A. Schwarzman Building.)

1. It Took 12 Years to Build the Library 

You read that correctly. The NYPL took over a decade to build, using 530,000 cubic feet of marble in the process. The exterior marble used for the building measures 12 inches thick, and when the NYPL opened in 1911, it was the largest marble building ever constructed in the United States.

2. Patience and Fortitude Were Almost Buffalo

NYPL lions

Patience and Fortitude are the marble African lions that rest outside the library’s front entrance, and believe it or not, they actually weren’t too popular during their original unveiling in 1911. Teddy Roosevelt, the New Yorker who served as the U.S. President from 1901 to 1909, wanted buffalo statues.

3. The Water Fountains Don’t Work 

The NYPL has some of the city’s most iconic water fountains, but unfortunately, they don’t actually work. However, in 2015 the two outdoor fountains on Fifth Avenue began flowing with water once again (after three dry decades). As for the indoor fountains, they remain all dried up, at least for now.

4. There Is an Extensive Collection of Artifacts

While many think of the NYPL as being a place to read, write, and study, it is also the home to many of America’s most cherished artifacts. Charles Dickens’ favorite letter-opener, Jack Kerouac’s crutches, Truman Capote’s cigarette case, and a 1493 unique copy of Christopher Columbus’ letter announcing his discovery of the New World are amongst the collection.

5. Books Are Kept Under Bryant Park

Bryant Park

Image: Andrea Puggioni/Flickr

NYPL stores approximately 1.5 million books underneath Bryant Park. Located only six feet under the park’s surface lies 40 miles of library shelves. So how do library employees get to it? There’s a 120 foot tunnel that connects the underground storage space to the main branch. Additionally, the NYPL also has seven levels of underground storage beneath the main branch itself.

6. Many Notables Have Flocked to It

The NYPL is arguably the most famous library in the United States, and its clientele are just as impressive. Bob Dylan, Jacqueline Onassis, Grace Kelly, Lillian Gish, Colson Whitehead, Jonathan Safran Foer, Norman Mailer, E.L. Doctorow, Marlene Dietrich, Harold Prince, Alfred Kazin, Tom Wolfe, Isaac Bashevis Singer, and Danzy Senna have all taken advantage of the library’s extensive collection and impressive study spaces.

7. The Library Was Built Over a Reservoir 

Before the city grew to house an outrageous population, the Croton Reservoir served as the main source of water for New Yorkers. And where was that reservoir’s central location? 42ndand Fifth, of course! The NYPL was founded 15 years after it was determined that the Croton Reservoir was no longer sufficient to supply the city with water.

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