As the New York Public Library preps to reopen, its lions wear masks

As the New York Public Library preps to reopen, its lions wear masks

The New York Public Library lions, Patience and Fortitude, have stood guard over the steps of the storied institution since 1911. During this time, the marble sculptures have donned many costumes — from holiday wreaths to baseball caps and top hats.

Now, in a bid to set an example to New Yorkers, the iconic lions will wear blue masks (a first for the pair). The three-feet wide and two-feet tall pieces of fabric are to serve as a reminder to “stay safe and follow expert guidelines to combat the spread of COVID-19,” the library said in an announcement.

The face coverings arrived on the snouts of the sculptures June 29, just as the system prepares to begin opening up a limited amount of branches for grab-and-go services July 13.

The New York Public Library lions, Patience and Fortitude, wear masks. Photo: Jonathan Blanc / NYPL.
The New York Public Library lions, Patience and Fortitude, wear masks. Photo: Jonathan Blanc / NYPL.

“Patience and Fortitude are the perfect symbols for the strengths our city and our nation need now even more,” New York Public Library President Anthony W. Marx said in a statement. “Like them, New Yorkers are strong and resilient and can weather any storm.”

Marx stated he believes New York will get through the public health crisis, adding the caveat that in order to do so, “we must remain vigilant, we must have patience and fortitude, and we must follow what experts tell us, especially as we continue to reopen our cities.” The 109-year-old lions, according to Marx, are “setting that example.”

Though their names have changed over the years, the lions have served as constants in an ever-changing city. Conceived by Edward Clark Potter and sculpted out of pink Tennessee marble by the Piccirilli Brothers in the Bronx, the lions took their pedestals in front of the 42nd Street library just before the stacks opened to the public. In the 1930s, New York City Mayor Fiorello LaGuardia named the statues Patience and Fortitude as a symbol of resilience amid the Great Depression.

“For over 100 years, Patience and Fortitude have stood calmly at the center of a bustling city, proudly poised regardless of circumstance,” Marx said in a statement in early May. “It doesn’t matter how scary and uncertain the world feels, the lions stand strong, somehow both protective and welcoming. That certainly resonates today.”

The New York Public Library lions, Patience and Fortitude, wear masks. Photo: Jonathan Blanc / NYPL.
The New York Public Library lions, Patience and Fortitude, wear masks. Photo: Jonathan Blanc / NYPL.

The library closed its 92 physical locations across the Bronx, Manhattan and Staten Island March 14 in an effort to help slow the spread of the coronavirus. Since then, the organization has provided a robust platform of online programs, from e-books to virtual events.

When the library begins reopening July 13, New Yorkers will be able to access a small area inside the libraries, where they can pick up and return books in a contactless process. No browsing will be allowed during the first phase, and all patrons must wear a mask. A full list of branches reopening across the system can be found here.