Column: Visiting the New York Public Library


This is the first of several visits to often overlooked stops in New York City.  Today, we visit the Main Branch of the New York Public Library.

The Main Branch is along Fifth Avenue between 40th and 42nd Streets. When it opened in 1911, the Beaux-Arts building was the largest marble structure in the United States, its 375,000 square feet incorporating shelf space for 3.5 million books. It became famous for marble lions, named “Patience” and “Fortitude,” flanking the entrance, and for its half-acre Main Reading Room. In 2008, the Main Branch was renamed the Stephen Allen Schwarzman Building in honor of a donor who had contributed toward the building’s restoration.

In 2021, the library opened the Polonsky Exhibition on the first floor, named for a donor who had contributed to a permanent display of the museum’s most important historical items. About 250 rare and unique items are on display, organized into nine categories — Beginnings, Performance, Explorations, Fortitude, The Written Word, The Visual World, Childhood, Belief, and New York City. Important political documents include a copy of the Declaration of Independence, handwritten by Thomas Jefferson with a section denouncing slavery that was rejected by the Continental Congress; an original copy of the Bill of Rights, with two amendments that were never adopted; and George Washington’s handwritten Farewell Address.  Also on display are a score written by Beethoven, along with a lock of his hair, and Charles Dickens’ writing desk and his paper knife, the handle made from the paw of his deceased cat. Religious items include a Gutenberg Bible, printed in 1455, and Buddhist scriptures recorded on palm leaves. Recent items include a poster for a Houdini escape and Jack Kerouac’s proposed cover design for “On the Road.”

The next time you are in New York, don’t miss the free Polonsky Exhibition.