They've witnessed and survived the Great Depression (that's when they were given their present names - more on that below), they've watched over countless parades, been in movies, have been caricatured in cartoons, and even made into bookends!
These stern statues have been adorned with baseball caps, Christmas wreaths, graduation caps, and flowers...
And several children's books have been inspired by these famous "Library Lions":
ANDY AND THE LION by James Daugherty. Daugherty's retelling of Androcles and the Lion involves an imaginative boy, an imagined lion, and a local lending library. (The book's dedication is written to the New York Public Library Lions).
LIBRARY LION by Michelle Knudsen, with illustrations by Keven Hawkes.
This story is about a librarian, Miss Merriweather, and a very loud lion who comes to visit and roars when storytime ends. Miss Merriweather reprimands him and he promises to reform. In fact, he becomes her best helper! But when she falls and breaks her arm and the Lion ROOAAARRSS! for help, things get a bit confused and the lion is sent away. But not to worry - everything works out in the end.
Want to read more about these historic statues? Look for TOP CATS: The Life and Times of the New York Public Library Lions, by Susan G. Larkin.
According to Henry Hope Reed in his book, The New York Public Library, about the architecture of the Fifth Avenue building, the sculptor Edward Clark Potter obtained the commission for the lions on the recommendation of August Saint-Gaudens, one of America's foremost sculptors. Potter was paid $8,000 for the modeling, and the Piccirilli Brothers executed the carving for $5,000, using pink Tennessee marble. After enduring almost a century of weather and pollution, in 2004 the lions were professionally cleaned and restored. Unfortunately, the popular tradition of decorating the lions also endangered them, so the practice has been discontinued on the recommendation of the conservators.
Their nicknames have changed over the decades. First they were called Leo Astor and Leo Lenox, after The New York Public Library founders John Jacob Astor and James Lenox. Later, they were known as Lady Astor and Lord Lenox (even though they are both male lions). During the 1930s, Mayor Fiorello LaGuardia named them Patience and Fortitude, for the qualities he felt New Yorkers would need to survive the economic depression. These names have stood the test of time: Patience still guards the south side of the Library's steps and Fortitude sits unwaveringly to the north.