The bear and the books



NEW YORK –   —My daughter Antoinette sleeps while hugging her Pooh bear, a gift from her Uncle Joe and Aunt Sheryl when we arrived in Kalispell, Montana in May 2015. The bear has since been part of our household.

So when New York Public Library volunteer guide Yvonne Meyer told our group that the real Winnie-the-Pooh and friends (Kanga, Piglet, Eeyore, Tigger) live in the Children’s Center of the library’s Schwarzman Building, I was—to describe it conservatively—very ecstatic.

Story has it that the stuffed toys were given to author A.A. Milne’s American publisher, but they were just hidden in an office, gathering dust. Yvonne said a wise bird suggested to have stuffed toys donated to the library.

I arrived in New York on a Sunday night with my husband Jeff.

We were only spending two days in the Big Apple as we were scheduled to be onboard Crystal Serenity of Crystal Cruises on a Tuesday afternoon. I had long abandoned the life of speed.

I hate breezing through each tourist destination just to show people that I have been “there.” For this NYC visit, I only wanted to see one thing: the New York Public Library. Well, at least the main branch located on the corner of Fifth Avenue and 42nd Street.

Joining me on that Monday for a 2 p.m. walking tour was Third Baqueriza, a Filipino nurse who hails from Iloilo and has been working in New York in the last five years. Third is my friend of four years, but we haven’t met in person until that Monday.

Our Monday afternoon adventure brought us to the entrance hall of the Schwarzman Building.

The writer outside the Schwarzman Building  of NYPL. (CDN PHOTO/ CRIS EVERT LATO)

The writer outside the Schwarzman Building

Miss Meyer—witty and humorous— started the tour with a fascinating trivia:  Although the library is public, two-thirds of its funds come from private benefactors. Only one-third of the funds come from government coffers.

Upon his death, one-time governor Samuel J. Tilden bequeathed the bulk of his fortune amounting to $2.4 million to “establish and maintain a free library and reading room in the city of New York.”

During this period, New York had two libraries: the Astor and Lennox libraries.

The Astor Library was established by German immigrant John Jacob Astor. Hours were limited and the books did not circulate, but the Astor Library was a major resource for research and reference during that time.

The Lenox Library, founded by James Lenox, consisted of a collection of rare manuscripts and books which included the first Gutenberg Bible to come to the New World.

The Lenox Library was primarily intended for scholars and bibliophiles.

Both libraries were experiencing financial difficulties in 1892. At the suggestion of John Bigelow, New York attorney and Tilden trustee,
a bold plan was made to bring together all these resources to form the New York Public Library.

Pooh and friends (CDN PHOTO/ CRIS EVERT LATO)

Pooh and friends (CDN PHOTO/ CRIS EVERT LATO)

Marble is a primary material mostly used in the building structure. Marble came from Greece, France, Germany, some Middle Eastern countries and from all over United States including Vermont and Tennessee.

Our tour brought us to the DeWitt Wallace Periodical Room, named after the founder of Reader’s Digest Magazine, and services the current issues of 200 popular periodicals and 22 domestic and foreign newspapers.

Touring the century-old building is a historical throwback to the time when architects John Carrere and Thomas Hastings designed the building. It makes you wonder how they moved all those marbles in an era where heavy industrial machines are nonexistent.

The main exhibition hall contains the library’s only wooden ceiling, as the entire building is mostly made of marble. Any art and architectural enthusiasts will love the McGraw Rotunda on the third floor for its walnut paneling and valued ceiling.

Lovers of the written word, pay special attention to the murals in the walls and ceiling entitled “The Story of the Recorded Word,” which were painted by Edward Laning in 1937. My favorite is the one that depicts Johannes Gutenberg holding a page from the Bible, the first book to be printed using the movable type.

Main reading room (CDN PHOTO/ CRIS EVERT LATO)

Main reading room (CDN PHOTO/ CRIS EVERT LATO)

We concluded our tour at the Children’s Center as I stood in awe as a wide-eyed spectator to the original stuffed toys of Winnie-the-Pooh and Friends, gifts of A.A. Milne to his son, Christopher Robin Milne.

The “stuffed with fluff” character has since become the lead character of several stories that captured the hearts of children and adults alike.

Antoinette would love this story.

TAGS: bear, New York, public libraru, public library, Schwarzman Building, Winnie the Pooh
Latest Stories
Most Read

Subscribe to our regional newsletter

By providing an email address. I agree to the Terms of Use and
acknowledge that I have read the Privacy Policy.