Getting Reacquainted with the Library Lions, Patience and Fortitude

Posted on: March 6th, 2014 at 11:00 am by
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Some new bar called Patience and Fortitude might be angling for the Lower East Side, but the namesake Lions at the Library came first and have been lounging in Midtown for over 100 years.

Since May 23, 1911, Patience and Fortitude have flanked the steps of one of the most beautiful Beaux Arts buildings in New York City, the New York Public Library. They are merely statues of lions, yet for over a century, people continue to personify them.

Sculptor Edward Clark Potter created the duo as part of a pride—a number of male and female lions with cubs.  (The Piccirilli Brothers did the actual carving of the marble.) Potter also sculpted the two female lions at the Morgan Library, on 36th Street and Madison Avenue.  Why didn’t he sculpt cubs for them? Cubs are cute. Hello, Simba?

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No one named us? Rude.

The lions were “born” in the Bronx and first dubbed Leo Astor and Leo Lenox after John Jacob Astor and James Lenox, who founded the library.  At one point, Fortitude had a temporary sex change to Lady Astor and his/her brother, Lord Lenox. But it wasn’t until the Great Depression that the current names were handed down – Mayor Fiorello LaGuardia changed their identities once and for all to Patience and Fortitude. Patience lounges on the south side of the steps; Fortitude to the north.

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Getting ready for my big debut. A faint smile…

When these handsome marble jungle kings took their place in front of the library, the public reacted harshly, slaying their features with a variety of pithy insults. According to various New York Times articles and letters to the editor, the lions were too stern, hairy, Sphinx-like, squash-faced, mealy-mouthed and complacent. Future sculptors attempted to appease the public, even trimming the manes of these fierce statues.

By their teenage years, ironically, the brother lions were finally accepted and understood. They had become, together, a symbol of New York. They have Galas, charitable organizations, books, blogs etc. named after them. John Guare wrote the play A Day for Surprises which brings one of the lions to life to devour a lady librarian. Nathan Sawaya created Lego versions for their 100th anniversary in 2011. Cut from Tennessee marble, they seem to be the most alive inanimate objects in NYC.

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I turn up my nose at you, sir. Please back away with your flashing lights.

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We can’t see. How can we guard if we can’t see?

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I am Patience, but have none for being groomed.

From The New York Post in 2013:

The annual tradition [of wreathing] was halted in 2004 after it was discovered that the wreaths were damaging the century-old stone. But the new wreaths are made of a marble-sensitive material.

“We found a creative way to bring them back,” NYPL President Tony Marx told The Post.

“It was like Rockefeller Center not having its tree, or Macy’s not having its window display.

In 2013, these bros were adorned once again with wreaths and things:

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Is this necessary?

And things:

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Seriously, we don’t think this is funny.

I hear these fellas might get yarmulkes next year … or maybe not.

So, if people (including myself) treat them essentially as living beings, why not animate them? Forsaking the whole “we eat humans” thing, how about a Night at the Museum for Patience and Fortitude? Their faces are so full of expression, different at every angle. And they most certainly speak in a Bronx accent.

“Patience and Fortitude conquer all things.” Ralph Waldo Emerson

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Ah, New York. My stunning and gritty, sparkling and filthy, tremendous, transcendent metropolis. You were forged by the keepers of secrets and those secrets I plan to find and reveal, one brick at a time. Bless up.

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