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A Family Lived in the New York Public Library?

Our American Stories / Lee Habeeb
The Truth Network Radio
June 14, 2024 3:02 am

A Family Lived in the New York Public Library?

Our American Stories / Lee Habeeb

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June 14, 2024 3:02 am

On this episode of Our American Stories, our audience loved Kristin O'Donnell Tubb’s wonderful story from her historical fiction book John Lincoln Clem: Civil War Drummer Boy. So we asked if she would share another story with us. Here she is telling the story of the family that lived in the New York Public Library.

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This is Lee Habib and this is our American Stories. John Fiedler had a better deal than most New York City superintendents. He was the first super for the New York Public Library Main Branch, the famous Schwartzman Building on Fifth Avenue and 42nd Street. Their backyard was Bryant Park. A 1913 article in the New York Times noted that before moving into the library, Fiedler had worked as a merchant man, dabbled in prize fighting and studied engineering at Harvard.

Notably, the 1913 article focused on his new invention, an air purifier that promised to suck everything from arsenic to iron particles out of the air. He was a Civil War drummer boy, so we asked if she would share another story with us. Here she is telling the story of the family that lived in the New York Public Library. Once upon a time, a girl was born inside a library. And not just any library, the New York Public Library.

Yep, the big famous building on Fifth and 42nd, the one with the lions out front. The date was May 8, 1917. Two French dignitaries happened to be visiting the library that week, Prime Minister René Viviani and Marshal Joseph Joffre. The girl's parents were stumped for a name for their daughter and a guest at the party suggested combining these two dignitaries' names. And so the girl born inside the NYPL became Viviani Joffre Fiedler. Viviani was the first daughter and third child of John and Cornelia Fiedler. John Fiedler was hired as the building superintendent when the iconic library was under construction. He, Cornelia, and their two sons, John Jr. and Edward, moved into the library in July 1910, 10 months before the library opened to the public on May 23, 1911. They lived in an eight-room apartment on the mezzanine level of the library. This apartment is where Viviani was born and she's thought to be the only child ever born inside the building.

The footprint of the apartment is still there today. Viviani, Edward, and John Jr. had quite a childhood inside those marble walls. They later recounted stories of playing baseball inside the library using books as bases. The library often hosted dignitaries at lavish parties inside the stunning building and when Viviani was six, she recited poetry to Queen Marie of Romania in the children's collection.

Because they were not allowed to have pets, John Jr. once trapped pigeons on the roof until the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals caught wind of this and requested he free them. Viviani and her friends would slide down the banisters and play hide and seek among the library's priceless marble statues while her brothers played war in the basement. And once, a thief was caught trying to steal a rare $10,000 stamp collection from a library display. John Sr. was quite a character and to prevent his three children from getting into too much mischief in the late night library, he told his kids in his distinct Bowery dialect that the library was haunted by a man killed during construction. Viviani later told the New Yorker magazine that the library is, quote, like a big marble grave at night after the cleaners are gone. The idea that the NYPL is haunted is now quite entrenched in the building's history and the opening scene of the original Ghostbusters movie pays homage to that belief. Peter, at 1.40 p.m. at the main branch of the New York Public Library on Fifth Avenue, 10 people witnessed a free-floating, full-torso, vaporous apparition.

It blew books off shelves from 20 feet away and scared the socks off some poor librarian. I'm very excited. I'm very pleased. I want you to get right down there, check it out, and get back to me.

Get right back to me. Peter, you're coming with us on this one. Spengler went down there. He took PKE valences, went right off the top of the scale, buried the needle. We're close on this one.

I can feel it. John Jr. told the New York Times years later, quote, there was some basis for the legend. Ten men died in the nine or ten years it took to build the central library. The reading room ghost was one who had fallen from the scaffolding when they were putting in the reading room ceiling.

At least that's the way father told it. The elder John Fiedler was also an inventor and worked with Thomas Edison. His workshop in the basement is still there today. He called it his private laboratory.

He was known to have, quote, dabbled in plastics long before the word got into the dictionary. The Fiedler children had many friends in the area. Some of them lived in the Algonquin Hotel, some in Roger's Peak department store.

This group of friends truly had a unique playground. Viviani lived in the library until she was 15 years old, leaving when she got married. John Jr. took over as the building superintendent from his father, retiring in June 1949. All told, the Fiedlers lived inside the New York Public Library for 38 years. You can read more about the Fiedler family and their adventures inside the New York Public Library in two books about their lives, The Story Collector and its sequel, The Story Seeker. And a special thanks to Kristen O'Donnell-Tubb for her storytelling. And what a gig. What a beautiful way to grow up. The reading room may be my favorite place in all of New York City. I can't tell you how many hours I spent there as a boy. Just love the place.

And that reading room, well, you're going to read the story of John Fiedler, the family that lived in the New York Public Library here on Our American Story. Folks, if you love the stories we tell about this great country and especially the stories of America's rich past, know that all of our stories about American history from war to innovation, culture and faith are brought to us by the great folks at Hillsdale College, a place where students study all the things that are beautiful in life and all the things that are good in life. And if you can't get to Hillsdale, Hillsdale will come to you with their free and terrific online courses. Go to to learn more.
Whisper: medium.en / 2024-06-14 04:38:10 / 2024-06-14 04:41:13 / 3

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