Photo by Wally Gobetz (via Flickr)
Visitors to the New York Public Library’s Stephen A. Schwarzman Building have been greeted for nearly 100 years by Patience, the proud lion statue which guards the south side of the main steps and Fortitude, guardian of the north side. Together, they are iconic and beloved symbols of the New York Public Library. Due to the many patron inquiries we receive about the famous lions, Ask NYPL librarians have compiled a collection of the more interesting responses over the years, including whether they have ever been vandalized. Per documented reports in The New York Times, the answer is yes, including assaults with paint, wreath nabbing and a particularly destructive wreath fire, apparently set by celebrators following New Year’s festivities in 1960. Fortitude was the victim of the blaze, which prompted the Library, the following holiday season, to forgo the elaborate wreaths with bows and lights.
New Yorkers and tourists alike have fond memories of seeing Patience and Fortitude variously adorned throughout the years in holiday wreaths of holly, floral spring-time wreaths, top hats, graduation caps and even showing home team spirit clad in Mets and Yankee caps. Numerous Library visitors and patrons have taken notice of the absence of the aforementioned adornments. One particularly passionate patron likened seeing Patience and Fortitude without their holiday wreaths to seeing Rockefeller Center without the tree. Following a 2004 cleaning and restoration effort on the lions, on the recommendation of the conservators to prevent as much deterioration as possible to the statues’ pink Tennessee marble, the Library has halted the tradition of adorning the lions.
President, Dr. Paul LeClerc, explained it best in December 2008, in a feature on The New York Times City Room blog entitled "Answers About the New York Public Library": “Unfortunately, there are no plans to put the wreaths on Patience and Fortitude this or any other holiday season…The lions are powerful and beloved symbols of this city, and the library will make sure they are in great shape as they start their second century of welcoming visitors and users to the New York Public Library."
Next year, Patience and Fortitude will celebrate their 100th birthday, though they have been known by different names over the past century. On the date which the Library was dedicated, May 23, 1911, they were first named Leo Astor and Leo Lenox after the New York Public Library’s founders John Jacob Astor and James Lenox. Subsequently they took on the monikers of Lady Astor and Lord Lenox, albeit both male lions. It was during the economic depression of the 1930’s that Mayor Fiorello LaGuardia named them Patience and Fortitude, qualities he felt imperative for New Yorkers survival during the tumultuous time. Those names have withstood the test of time and we hope the same enduring fate upon the emblematic lions.
For more information on Patience and Fortitude: http://www.nypl.org/help/about-nypl/library-lions
Related: "Patience and Fortitude: The New York Public Library During the Great Depression and Today's Economic Crisis"