Ah, Ghostbusters is one of my all-time favorite movies. I was walking along 5th Avenue Saturday evening, in the pouring rain on my way to dinner, when I peeked from under my umbrella and saw the iconic lions, Patience and Fortitude, who guard the entrance to the main branch of the New York Public Library. I stopped for a moment and looked at them and could hear Peter Venkman interrogating Alice, the librarian. I laughed out loud and decided to go there Sunday afternoon.
This main branch of the library opened in 1911 at a cost of 9 millions dollars. Without getting into a complicated telling of New York history, the building was funded with money from the estates of Samuel Tilden, John Jacob Astor, and James Lenox. Say what you will about these ultra-wealthy men and the way they earned their money. They understood that there was a great need for a place to create culture and community. They bequeathed money from their estates to build a grand institution whose purpose was to educate, inform, and improve the lives of the American public. For free. It has always been a place of great beauty and inspiration that costs nothing to use. Generations of families, scholars, and researchers have walked past those lions and through the doors into the great hall, seeking knowledge or respite or entertainment.
I walked through the hallways, peeking into rooms and staring at the architecture in awe of the beauty. Unfortunately, the Rose Main Reading Room was closed for refurbishment. But, even in looking at pictures I could feel the splendor and imagine the thrill that people must feel when they sit there, at a table, to read.
I went to the third floor and on display was a Gutenberg Bible. I stood in front of it and felt a great emotion wash over me, thinking how lucky I was to be there, witnessing such history, such beauty. I waited for a moment but didn’t take a picture. I felt somehow it was wrong to click away with my phone in such a reverent place.
I walked down the stairs and back into the grey of the overcast Sunday. Imagine what the people of New York must have felt the first time they walked into that building. Maybe like anything was possible.