one hundred and forty-two: a letter to James + Jacob

Postcard: Bryant Park Corporation / 34th Street Partnership

A big anniversary celebration is taking place on Fifth Avenue right now: The New York Public Library turns one hundred today. Guarded by two gargantuan lions (Patience and Fortitude), the majestic building at 42nd Street has been spruced up for the occasion. In honor of this milestone, I decided to write to James Lenox and Jacob Astor. These two gentlemen smartly merged their libraries in 1911 to create a truly impressive collection of knowledge.

May 23, 2011

Dear Mr. Lenox and Mr. Astor,

I know it was a tough decision to merge your respective libraries in the midst of financial difficulties, but I think you made the right decision. Today the library you helped create is celebrating one hundred years of service. One hundred years gentlemen! If you were still around such an occasion would surely call for a top hat and tails.

Your generous philanthropy has benefitted so many New Yorkers, and thanks to this newish thing called the Internet, people all over the world. Yes, the world!  The Library has become part of the fabric of this city—both its historic location on Fifth Avenue and the eighty-nine locations spread throughout the five boroughs. Your impressive collection of one million books has grown to total more than fifty million items, including materials for the visually impaired. And those lions out front, well, let’s just say they’ve had their photograph taken a few times.

Thank you for making such a forward-thinking decision. You’ll be pleased to know the current leadership of the library is following in your footsteps. And yet, the historic charm remains—especially in the research facilities, which I have benefited from on more than one occasion. I wish you could be here to see this, but I trust you’re toasting with a glass of scotch somewhere…

All the best to you both,


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