Secrets of New York

The ultimate insider's guide to the best-kept secrets of NYC's must-see places and buzzed-about people.

The marble lions (named Patience and Fortitude) outside

The marble lions (named Patience and Fortitude) outside of the New York Public Library weren't always popular. (Credit: Getty Images )

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Secrets of the New York Public Library

5th Ave at 42nd St New York, NY 10018

Walk up the steps at 42nd Street and Fifth Avenue, past Patience and Fortitude, the iconic Library Lions, and enter the main branch of the New York Public Library.

While the NYPL has branches throughout Manhattan, the Bronx and Staten Island, its iconic Beaux-Arts building in midtown is perhaps the library's most famous spot.

Free to enter and explore, this often-overlooked museum has plenty of historical artifacts, notable artwork and countless information.

While most of the library's collection is controlled

Credit: Melissa Kravitz

The stacks may hold the answers to your family history

While most of the library's collection is controlled by librarians, a few public reading rooms have traditional stacks of books. Milstein Room 121 is a popular spot for people to work on laptops or read. Bonus: The shelves hold thousands of books containing genealogy records.

"It's one of our busiest research divisions in the Schwarzman building," said Matthew A. Knutzen, who has served as the library's Linda May Uris director of humanities and social sciences for the past 15 years. The genealogy records, which he called an "endless rabbit hole" of information, are "quite heavily used," he added.

The marble African lions (named Patience & Fortitude)

Credit: Barry Solow via Flickr (CC BY-SA)

Patience and Fortitude were almost of a different species

The marble African lions (named Patience & Fortitude) outside the library were not popular when they were first unveiled. At the time, Teddy Roosevelt wanted buffalo statues. Patience and Fortitude were unveiled in 1911 at the dedication of the library by President William Howard Taft.

Robert Ripley of

Credit: NYPL

Authors and scholars have their own special workspace

Robert Ripley of "Ripley's Believe It or Not" used to visit the library to look up information. Betty Friedan wrote the "Feminine Mystique" at the NYPL and Robert A. Caro wrote his opus about Robert Moses "The Power Broker" in the library as well.

Currently, the NYPL operates the Cullman Center for authors and scholars to write in. Several hundred people apply for the workspace each year and only 15 qualified applicants receive a personal writing space and access to research materials, Knutzen said.

The "highly competitive program" sees a wide range of writers, from journalists to graphic novelists and students, he added.

The Berg Collection's reading room is not open

Credit: NYPL

Charles Dickens' cat's paw lives in the NYPL

The Berg Collection's reading room is not open to the public, but it's viewable from the hallway, and has plenty of notable collectibles. Charles Dickens' actual writing desk, as well as his unique letter opener, sit inside. Dickens' sister-in-law custom-made the letter opener in memory of Dickens' cat Bob. Bob's paw is stuffed and affixed to the handle of the opener.

The calendar that sits on Dickens' desk is still set to June 9, 1870, the date of his death, according to the NYPL.

The New York Public Library card only works

IDNYC cards double as library cards

The New York Public Library card only works in its Manhattan, Staten Island and Bronx branches. Other cards are needed for the Queens and Brooklyn libraries. But, you can check out books with the new IDNYC card instead at all locations.

The library has been storing its books in

Credit: Bryant Park Corporation

The literary underground now runs deeper

The library has been storing its books in a space under Bryant Park that could fit nearly 4 million reads since the 1980s. But you may not have known that there was also an extra basement area one level lower that was left unfinished in 1989. This year, the second level was renovated and is now being used as extra shelving space.

The stacks in the new level don't follow a numerical or alphabetical shelving system, Knutzen said. Instead, the books are measured, arranged by size and packed together, allowing the NYPL to make the most of the space. Finding the tightly stacked books isn't tricky. They each contain barcodes and can be located through the library's computer system, he added.

Credit: HBO

The NYPL plays a prominent role in Hollywood

"The Day After Tomorrow" features an iconic apocalyptic book-burning scene. "Breakfast at Tiffany's," "The Thomas Crown Affair," "Ghostbusters" and "Escape from New York" all feature the NYPL prominently.

Perhaps the most iconic scene filmed inside the NYPL is Carrie Bradshaw's almost-wedding to Mr. Big in "Sex and the City." The book "Love Letters of Great Men," which Bradshaw references in the film, did not even exist at the time -- it was created as a prop for the movie and was eventually published due to popular demand.

It's called Microform. It's ancient technology from less

Credit: Melissa Kravitz

The NYPL is home to a super cool time machine

It's called Microform. It's ancient technology from less than 200 years ago that works to preserve documents. Archives of decades of back issues of "Cosmopolitan," "Rolling Stone" and many other publications are stored here. These are often used for research for historical films or books.

The NYPL has 316,042 circulating e-books in its

Credit: NYPL / Digital Gallery

The library is actually pretty futuristic

The NYPL has 316,042 circulating e-books in its digital collection that can be checked out from anywhere. The library is also working on digitizing its archives -- including papers and manuscripts from historically notable writers -- via a special camera that shoots super high-res images of each document. The digital gallery is home to more than 800,000 historic images available for public viewing.

Like the Croton Reservoir, the water fountains

Credit: Melissa Kravitz

The NYPL's water fountains don't actually work

Like the Croton Reservoir, the water fountains at the main branch are all dried up -- but they still look cool.

The drains, however, are very much intact. One man tried to propose to his girlfriend by hiding a ring in the fountain and it slipped away.

Tons of proposals take place at the library every year, either planned with the NYPL staff -- there's an office to help plan engagements in the library -- or impromptu.

The Pforzheimer Collection focuses on manuscripts, books and

Credit: NYPL

Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley's hair is saved in the NYPL

The Pforzheimer Collection focuses on manuscripts, books and ephemera of 18th Century English poet Percy Bysshe Shelley and his contemporaries. The collection has memorabilia regarding his second wife, Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley (best known for writing the Gothic novel "Frankenstein"), including a lock of her hair.

The Croton Reservoir, a main source of water

Credit: BryantPark.org

The NYPL main building is at the site of a former reservoir

The Croton Reservoir, a main source of water for the city in the 19th Century, was used until about 1880 when the water was no longer sufficient to supply NYC as the city expanded North.

Because of its central location at 42nd and Fifth, the spot was ideal for the public library, which was founded in 1895 and officially opened in 1911.

Remnants of the original Croton Reservoir can be

Credit: Wikimedia Commons

Parts of the original Croton Reservoir can still be seen

Remnants of the original Croton Reservoir can be found on the lower levels of the library, which are usually only open for special events. If you're in an area that is closed off, try walking across the upper-level bridge in the South Court and look down.

The third-floor hallways are home to murals illustrating

Credit: Melissa Kravitz

The NYPL may be NYC's best public art gallery

The third-floor hallways are home to murals illustrating the history of the written word, from Prometheus to Moses to ancient scribes to the printing press up through the 1930s. There is not yet a Twitter mural, but who knows?

In the first floor periodical room, you can see murals of classic New York publishing houses including Hearst, The New York Times and more.

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